Greek police have arrested Syrian swimmer Sara Mardini and two other activists on charges of smuggling migrants into Greece. All three are members of the Emergency Response Center International (ERCI) on Lesbos. ERCI is a Greek NGO providing emergency response and humanitarian aid.
Mardini, together with German and Greek nationals, are accused of belonging to a criminal organization, money laundering, espionage, forgery and breaches of immigration laws. In a rather dramatic statement in which they refer to the activists as “criminal network”, the police claims that Mardini and others “facilitated the illegal entry of foreigners” into Greece from 2015 onwards, and “worked with people smugglers and received refugees coming from Turkey on the island of Lesbos and encouraged others to migrate illegally.” The cops said that the activists have done so for profit, namely to raise donations or subsidies for the NGO’s activities, and that they illegally monitored FRONTEX, Greek and European coast guard radio traffic.
Sara Mardini is a Syrian refugee who gained international attention after she, together with her sister Yusra, pulled a stranded refugee boat for more than three hours across the Mediterranean Sea. Both sisters were promising swimmers who fled the war in Syria before boarding the overcroveded boat to cross from the Turkish port of Izmir to Greece. During their journey, the engine failed and the boat threatened to capsize. Sara and Yusra swam alongside the distressed boat until they managed to guide it to land. They saved 20 people.
After their ordeal, Mardini sisters were granted asylum and scholarship in Germany. While Yusra continued her swimming training in Germany and participated in the Olympic Games in Rio, Sara returned to Greece to work with ERCI.
30 other people are implicated in the criminal case, but it is yet unclear what the charges will be.