Afghan father faces jail after son died fleeing to Europe in EU first

The case is believed to be the first time in the European Union that a parent faces prosecution for their child’s shipwreck death in the pursuit of a better life in Europe

Ella Glover
Thursday 18 March 2021 11:31
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<p>The 25-year-old father of a boy who died at sea while attempting to <a href="/news/un-thousands-flee-ethiopia-violence-seek-asylum-in-sudan-people-asylum-ethiopia-violence-violence-b1806116.html">seek asylum</a> in <a href="/news/greece-could-order-private-doctors-to-join-covid19-battle-greece-covid-athens-sms-b1818622.html">Greece</a> faces up to 10 years in prison with charges of <a href="/news/world/americas/us-election-2020/joe-biden-hunter-laptop-smear-trump-rudy-giuliani-us-election-2020-b1208133.html">child endangerment</a></p>

The 25-year-old father of a boy who died at sea while attempting to seek asylum in Greece faces up to 10 years in prison with charges of child endangerment

The 25-year-old father of a boy who died at sea while attempting to seek asylum in Greece faces up to 10 years in prison with charges of child endangerment.

The five-year-old boy, originally from Afghanistan, drowned in a shipwreck during the journey from Turkey to Greece after his father’s asylum application in Turkey was rejected twice.

The man, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition he only be identified by his initials, N.A., and that his son wouldn’t be named, had feared he and his son would be deported to Afghanistan.

He was divorced and raising his son alone.

“I didn’t come here for fun. I was compelled,” N.A. said. “I decided to go for the future of my son, for my future, so we can go somewhere to live, and my son can study.”

Now, he says, he often thinks of killing himself. 

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“Without him I don’t know how to live,” he cried. “He is the only one I had in my life. All my hopes were him.”

This is believed to be the first time in the European Union that a parent faces prosecution for their child’s shipwreck death in the pursuit of a better life in Europe.

It isn’t clear why Greek authorities took the extreme step of charging this man when so many others have been in his place.

Notis Mitarachi, Greece’s Migration Minister, said the case doesn’t indicate any change in Greece’s migration policy.

“If there is the loss of human life, it must be investigated whether some people, through negligence or deliberately, acted outside the limits of the law,” Mitarachi said, adding this was on a case-by-case basis.

He noted asylum seekers’ lives aren’t in danger in Turkey.

“The people who choose to get into boats, which are unseaworthy and are driven by people who have no experience of the sea, obviously put human lives at risk,” he said.

According to The Associated Press, who looked at legal documents and interviewed those involved with the case, N.A. and his son began their journey in Izmir, Turkey, along with 24 other Afghan passengers.

Ebrahim Haidari, aged 29, remembers the boy as an intelligent child who chatted with other passengers and joked with the smugglers in Turkish. He said he was struck by the father and son’s close relationship.

On 7 November, the asylum seekers were driven to the Turkish coast. Although the sea was not calm, smugglers insisted the weather would improve and forced the passengers into an inflatable dinghy and made one of them drive. 

 The weather didn’t improve and, as the sea grew rougher, the boat took on water. The group headed for the first land they could see in order to escape death. 

However, rocks near the shore tore the dinghy, throwing them overboard. 

In the chaos, N.A. lost sight of his son, and couldn’t hear him. 

On two separate occasions, boats with searchlights approached the group but did not stop. 

According to an unnamed official of the Samos coast guard, who spoke on the condition of anonymity after Greece’s Shipping and Island Policy Ministry refused to grant an interview request, the coastguards saw no one when they arrived at the tip of an uninhabited peninsula on reports of the possible arrival of migrants. 

The father is certain the crew saw them, but didn’t help.

According to the official, one of the vessels discovered the boy's body hours later while rescuing a woman from behind a rock. The father was found several hours’ walk away, with another nine people.

Legal documents show the Samos coast guard arrested the father for “exposing his minor son to danger during the attempted illegal entry into the country by sea.”

The official said: “If you have a dead child, you try to figure out who he was with.

“It’s different when you have relatives there helping, and different when you find them alone.”

The indictment accuses the father of “leaving your ... child helpless” and putting him in an unseaworthy boat in bad weather.

On the EU’s border, Greece has been on the frontline of Europe’s migration crisis. From 2014 to 2020, more than 1.2 million people used the eastern Mediterranean route to Europe, according to UNHCR figures. More than 2,000 died or went missing.

Last March, as Greek-Turkish relations soured, Turkey announced its borders to the EU were open, sending thousands of migrants to the Greek border. Greece accused Turkey of weaponising migrants’ desperation. Aid groups and asylum seekers have also reported pushbacks by Greece, illegal deportations without allowing asylum applications. Greece vehemently denies the claims.

Nick van der Steenhoven of refugee rights charity Choose Love notes asylum seekers have little choice in timing.

“These people have to rely on smugglers, and these smugglers decide when and where people take these journeys,” he said. The father and son “became victim of the failure of the European Union to provide safe and legal routes.”

The father’s defence lawyer Dimitris Choulis is filing an official application requesting an investigation into the coast guard’s actions. The father, he said, is convinced his son could have been saved.

Choulis considers the charges “the product of panic and not the product of some broader policy .. But automatically we are creating one more obstacle to these people to claim asylum.”

Additional reporting by The Associated Press

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