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December 13, 2018

Syrian refugee who saved lives shocked at Greek detention


December 13, 2018

A Syrian refugee lauded for saving migrants from drowning at sea voiced shock on Wednesday over her three-month detention in Greece for abetting illegal migration.

Sarah Mardini, 23, was released on bail in early December, and has since returned to Berlin. "I’m in shock about the situation and how fast everything happened," Mardini told AFP.

"They arrested me because I’ve been accused of smuggling migrants... and for being part of a criminal organisation," she said. She had only been doing "what we can to save the refugees," she added.

Mardini, who worked as a volunteer for the NGO ERCI on the Greek island of Lesbos, was arrested and placed in provisional detention at the end of August. She has been charged with participation in a network that allegedly facilitates irregular immigration.

Her lawyer Zacharias Kesses meanwhile accused Greek authorities of trying to "criminalise" the NGO. "What they want is to send a message to the NGOs that they should not only cooperate with the authorities but that they should also work for them," he added.

Mardini’s imprisonment had sparked outrage among human rights activists. Mardini and her sister Yusra made headlines in 2015, when they used their swimming skills to pull to safety their water-logged boat with another 18 people onboard on its journey from Turkey to Lesbos.

The following year Yusra, now a UNHCR goodwill ambassador, was on the refugee team at the Rio 2016 Olympics and Mardini went on to win a scholarship studying economics and social sciences at Bard College in Berlin.

Lesbos has been a key gateway into the European Union since the start of the bloc’s migration crisis in 2015. At the height of the influx, some 5,000 migrants and refugees, mostly from war-torn Syria, landed on the island’s beaches on a daily basis.

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