November 19, 2020

Greek authorities charge asylum seeker after his son dies on dangerous sea crossing

Greek authorities charge asylum seeker after his son dies on dangerous sea crossing

Greek authorities have charged Ayoubi Nadir, a 25-year-old Afghan asylum seeker, with endangering the life of a child after his six-year-old son died when the boat bringing them and 22 others to Greece capsized off the island of Samos in the Aegean Sea on November 8.

Rights groups say the move sets a worrying precedent in criminalizing migrants and is part of a bigger strategy by Greek authorities to dissuade them from attempting to travel to the country.

The New York Times has reported previously how boats filled with hundreds of people have been illegally pushed back from Greek territory; and a recent report by the EU Observer newspaper detailed how the Greek Coast Guard received orders to push a boat of migrants back into Turkish territorial waters.

While border enforcement should deter illegal immigration by increasing the probability of apprehension or the severity of punishment, Pia Orrenius, in her IZA World of Labor article on enforcement and illegal migration, explains that “[i]ntensified border enforcement,” also “leads to reduced circular migration, higher demand for smugglers, riskier crossings, and more migrant deaths.”

Amnesty International has also observed a deterioration in Greece’s approach to migrants and asylum seekers in the past twelve months. Adriana Tidona, a European migration researcher for the organization, says that policy and legal changes in the country have significantly reduced safeguards for asylum seekers. 

Orrenius’s article mostly concentrates on border enforcement mechanisms in the US, where the country’s Border Patrol strategy of pushing migrants to more remote areas has led to rising death rates: “Death rates among migrants rose an estimated threefold in the late 1990s following implementation of Operation Hold the Line and Operation Gatekeeper.” But, she also goes on to say that, in Europe, deaths among unauthorized migrants have also reached record levels in recent years, and now far exceed fatalities in the US. 

Vassilis Kerasiotis, lawyer and director of an organization that provides free legal services to asylum seekers in Greece (HIAS Greece), believes that charging a father who is fleeing conflict with endangering his child signifies an escalation of a broader shift toward criminalizing refugees and migrants by Greece.

“These people they don’t have any—zero—possibility of safe legal entry into Greek territory,” he said. 

Orrenius’s main message is that “[e]nforcement can be more effective and increase the net economic benefits of immigration to the destination country if implemented together with comprehensive reform and legal migration pathways that address the underlying push and pull forces that drive unauthorized migration.”

Read more from IZA World of Labor on migration policy.