New Setback for Europe’s Asylum Seekers as Yet More Are Criminalised

Man holds child waiting at Greek border to continue journey for asylum

As evidence of migration policy across Europe becoming increasingly hard-line, an asylum-seeking father is charged with endangering life.

Fresh concerns have been raised about yet more obstacles being placed in the way of asylum seekers who head to Europe in search of safety. These come after a man was charged with endangering the life of his son who died after trying to cross the sea from Turkey to Greece.

In early November, a father and his six year old child from Afghanistan joined around twenty others on a boat that left Turkey bound for Europe. The boat got into difficulties just off the  Greek island of Samos.

Although the rescue services were alerted, it took them almost seven hours to arrive, by which time the young boy had died. The child’s body was discovered off the Samos beach.

The boy’s 25 year old father survived, and appeared in a Greek court a few days later, charged with putting his child in danger resulting in his death. If he is found guilty, he faces a 10 year prison sentence.

The case raises serious questions about the right to seek asylum. Concerns have clearly been raised about the delays in getting help to those involved. However, it’s feared that similar charges could be used in future as a mechanism to deter others from taking the risk to get to Greece and seek asylum in Europe. 

Efforts across the EU nations to ‘pushback’ asylum seekers making these dangerous journeys have increased in recent months, with Greek authorities reported dragging boats into the Mediterranean sea and abandoning them there rather than bring to safety. Criminally charging asylum seekers themselves for “endangering life” of family members once they have been rescued could put off people who fear for government reaction.

Abandoned inflatable dinghies on Samos, Greece in 2015 [Pawel Kazmierczak /]

It’s thought that this is the first case of its kind in Greece to be brought against someone seeking asylum at the point of entry. The approach taken by the Greek authorities is likely to have been watched carefully by the Home Office in the UK, where hundreds of people risk their lives by crossing the Channel in highly inappropriate vessels from France.

Criminalisation mirroring actions taken in Greece is already happening in UK waters. The UK’s immigration enforcement unit is using drone footage to spot migrants steering boats to then prosecute them when they reach UK soil for facilitating the journeys. 

Eight migrants who admitted steering vessels have been sent to prison in the last two and half months. Once their jail terms are served, it would seem likely that they’ll face deportation. Once used to prosecute people smugglers, people seeking asylum have never faced prosecution in this way before.

All this is a good fit with the ‘hostile environment’ policy to immigration endorsed by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel. The Labour Party has described the government’s approach to Channel crossings and this kind of criminalisation as ‘lacking in compassion and competence.’’ 

Added to this, some migrants claim they’re being forced to steer the boats by the very criminal gangs who facilitated their journeys in the first place.

Charities such as Detention Action report that governments across Europe have failed to create secure routes to safety which fall within the law for those seeking asylum. They say this has given people little choice other than to embark on dangerous missions such as those across the Channel.

Calls continue for a joined-up approach across Europe and for a humane solution to the problem, rather than the criminalisation of people in desperation.

[Header image from 2015 by Ververidis Vasilis,]