Migrant father charged with son’s death on journey to Greece

Nichole S. Gehr

VATHY, Greece — On a pine-protected hill earlier mentioned the sparkling blue Aegean lies a boy’s grave, a teddy bear leaning versus the white marble tombstone. His initially boat journey was his very last — the sea claimed him right before his sixth birthday.

The Afghan little one with a tuft of spiky hair stares out of a image on his headstone, a trace of a smile on his lips. “He drowned in a shipwreck,” the inscription reads. “It was not the sea, it wasn’t the wind, it is the procedures and concern.”

These migration policies are now staying identified as into dilemma in the case of the boy’s 25-12 months-previous father, who is grieving the reduction of his only child. Previously devastated, the father has located himself billed with youngster endangerment for having his son on the perilous journey from Turkey to the close by Greek island of Samos. If convicted, he faces up to 10 several years in prison.

The costs are a stark departure from Greece’s prior treatment of migrant shipwreck survivors. This is considered to be the initially time in the European Union that a surviving father or mother faces prison prosecution for the dying of their kid in the pursuit of a greater existence in Europe.

The father’s hopes have been dashed on a cold November night towards the rocks of Samos, a picturesque island that also houses Greece’s most overcrowded refugee camp.

“Without him I don’t know how to are living,” the youthful man explained, his comfortable voice breaking as a tear rolled down his cheek. “He is the only just one I had in my life. All my hopes had been him.”

Now, he claims, he normally thinks of killing himself. He no for a longer period mentions the child’s identify. The father agreed communicate to The Related Press on problem he only be identified by his initials, N.A., and that his son wouldn’t be named.

It is not totally obvious why Greek authorities took the excessive action of charging this male when so lots of other people have been in his location. Activists suspect the shift signifies a hardening of Greece’s now restrictive migration policies, or suggest it could be an endeavor to divert notice from attainable carelessness by the coast guard.

But Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi rejected the notion that the situation heralded a transform in plan.

“If there is the reduction of human everyday living, it must be investigated no matter if some people, by means of carelessness or deliberately, acted outdoors the limits of the legislation,” Mitarachi reported, including that each individual incident is treated according to its instances.

He noted that the life of asylum-seekers usually are not in risk in Turkey, a nation the EU has considered safe.

“The people today who decide on to get into boats which are unseaworthy, and are pushed by men and women who have no encounter of the sea, of course set human lives at possibility,” he explained.

The father explained he experienced no preference but to make the journey. His asylum application in Turkey experienced been rejected two times and he feared deportation to Afghanistan, a place he fled at the age of 9. He required his son to go to school, in which, compared with him, the boy could understand to study and generate, and ultimately fulfil his dream of turning out to be a law enforcement officer.

“I didn’t arrive right here for enjoyable. I was compelled. I did not have a further way in my life,” he explained. “I determined to go for the foreseeable future of my son, for my upcoming, so we can go somewhere to reside, and my son can examine.”


At the southeastern edge of the EU and with 1000’s of kilometers of coastline bordering Turkey, Greece has located itself on the frontline of Europe’s migration disaster. From 2014 to 2020, a lot more than 1.2 million people today traveled together the eastern Mediterranean migration route, the extensive majority by means of Greece, in accordance to figures from the U.N. refugee agency. Additional than 2,000 died or went lacking.

Last March, as Greek-Turkish relations soured, Turkey announced its borders to the EU had been open up, sending countless numbers of migrants to the Greek border. Greece accused Turkey of weaponizing the desperation of migrants and quickly suspended asylum applications.

Aid groups and asylum seekers have also complained of pushbacks, the illegal deportation of migrants without the need of letting them to use for asylum. They accuse Greece’s coast guard of choosing up new arrivals and towing them in lifestyle rafts toward Turkish waters — a assert vehemently denied by Greek authorities.

The AP has pieced with each other what took place in the circumstance of this gentle-mannered father and his dead son from interviews with the father, a different passenger, the gentleman who initial claimed their arrival, the coastline guard and authorized paperwork.

Divorced and boosting his son by yourself, N.A. reported he acquired a smuggler’s number from a neighbor immediately after his next asylum rejection in Turkey, exactly where he experienced lived for years.

Their journey to Europe commenced in the Turkish coastal town of Izmir, where the 24 passengers, all Afghans, collected in a residence. Amongst them were Ebrahim Haidari, a 29-12 months-aged design worker, and his spouse.

Haidari remembers the small boy as an clever, sweet kid who simply struck up conversations with the other passengers and joked with the smugglers in fluent Turkish. He was struck by the close relationship concerning the boy and his young father, who Haidari stated was as a great deal a massive brother and good friend to the baby as a father.

On Nov. 7, a chilly, cloudy, windy evening, the team boarded a truck headed to a wooded element of the Turkish coast, arriving at all-around 10 p.m.

There ended up four smugglers in all, Haidari reported. The sea wasn’t significantly tranquil and the travellers were being worried, particularly considering the fact that at least some couldn’t swim. But the smugglers certain them the temperature would boost.

The boy did not share the adults’ anxieties. He had hardly ever been to the sea right before, his father explained, and he was eager to sail in a boat.

The boat was an inflatable dinghy, the sort desired by smugglers on the Turkish coast. Low cost and dispensable, they are usually overloaded with men and women, and a passenger is built to steer so the smugglers prevent arrest. At least one particular of the smugglers was armed.

After they donned lifejackets, anyone was compelled into the boat, Haidari and the father stated. Just one smuggler drove a limited way in advance of creating a passenger get about the steering, telling him to head toward a gentle in the length. In a flash, the smuggler dove overboard and swam absent.

Sitting down just in front of Haidari and his spouse, the father held his son tightly in his arms.

As a single hour turned into two and then a few, the weather conditions deteriorated. The wind whipped the sea into ever-bigger waves, and the inexperienced specified captain struggled to regulate the boat.

“I really don’t know what the smugglers believed, leaving us in these kinds of a terrible condition,” Haidari reported. “We did not know anything at all about the sea.”

Tossed by the waves, the dinghy took on drinking water. Men and women screamed they would die. To make matters worse, fuel was functioning out — the smugglers experienced supplied barely enough to get to Greece.

Quickly, the condition of a mountain loomed out of the darkness. Terrified of dying at sea, they turned towards it.

But the shoreline was jagged with rocks. The waves smacked the dinghy against the rocks at the time, then two times. The boat broke in two. Right before they knew it, the travellers have been in the water.

As they tumbled into the inky sea, the kid slipped out of his father’s embrace. The waves closed above the man’s head.

He didn’t know how to swim, but eventually his lifejacket brought him to the surface. He scanned the waves for his boy, listening for his voice. He shouted until finally the salt water built him hoarse. Practically nothing.

He sank beneath the waves again. Out of seemingly nowhere, a hand grabbed his and dragged him towards a rock. He does not know who it was, but he is certain that person saved his lifetime.

There was chaos all all around. Folks were calling for their brothers, wives, sons. Haidari and his spouse struggled in the waves to remain alive, crying and vomiting seawater.

At one stage, N.A. and Haidari mentioned, a boat appeared and switched on a searchlight. The survivors elevated their palms and shouted for enable, but the boat handed on.

About 15 to 20 minutes afterwards, Haidari reported, a second boat appeared. Once again, they hoped for a rescue, but all over again the vessel shone its searchlights and moved on.

“Maybe they did not see us or did not want to aid us,” Haidari explained.

The father is specific the crew noticed him and the folks in the drinking water. He stated that when he shouted and waved, the patrol boat experienced its searchlight on him.

“They didn’t help,” he explained. “They were being likely close to and coming back, going all around and coming back.”


The account of the coast guard is fairly distinctive in the crucial query of no matter whether it acted rapid sufficient, and no matter whether its patrol boats observed the struggling migrants.

Authorized documents attained by the AP clearly show the approach of charging the father was initiated by the Samos coast guard, which informed the prosecutor of a man’s arrest for “exposing his small son to danger in the course of the tried unlawful entry into the nation by sea.”

Greece’s Delivery and Island Coverage Ministry, under whose jurisdiction the coastline guard falls, failed to grant permission for Samos coastline guard officers to converse to the AP. The prosecutor didn’t answer to an interview request.

On the other hand, a Samos coastline guard official outlined authorities’ account of functions that night, talking on problem of anonymity.

The coastline guard was alerted at all-around midnight by an English-speaking person who furnished coordinates for a attainable migrant boat, the formal stated. The coordinates were being on land on Cape Prasso, a mountainous, about 5-kilometer-lengthy (a few-mile-long) peninsula of difficult terrain, with steep rocky slopes.

That man was Tommy Olsen, founder of Aegean Boat Report, a Norwegian nonprofit which displays and offers information on arrivals on the Greek islands. Olsen claimed individuals who are unwilling to call Greek authorities for worry of pushbacks speak to him in its place.

On that night time, Olsen mentioned, he been given a phone from an individual saying a group experienced arrived on Samos, but various folks were being missing. Olsen claimed he quickly informed the Samos coast guard and shared the coordinates.

The coast guard official stated upon obtaining the contact, they straight away initiated emergency methods, dispatching two coast guard vessels that still left the major port of Vathy at all-around 12:20 a.m. The vessels arrived in the space at all-around 1 a.m., the official stated, but observed no person.

At close to 6 a.m., one of the vessels noticed a greatly pregnant female guiding a rock in a treacherous section of the coast, the formal extra. Though rescuing her, which took about an hour and a fifty percent, they uncovered the boy’s entire body close by. Paperwork show the vessel carrying the woman and youngster returned to Vathy at around 9:30 a.m.

The woman and youngster were not relevant. At about the exact time as they had been located, at approximately 6:40 a.m. on Nov. 8, a two-individual coastline guard foot patrol came across a team of 10 people on the hill of Cape Prasso, several hours’ walk absent. The group incorporated the father.

“If you have a useless child, you attempt to determine out who he was with,” the formal said. “It’s distinctive when you have relations there serving to, and diverse when you discover them on your own.”

The suggestion is, the reality the father wasn’t with his son when they were located was a critical purpose for him remaining billed.

The indictment accuses him of “leaving your … boy or girl helpless.” It states the father allowed his son to board an unseaworthy boat in negative weather with out wearing an ideal lifejacket — whilst a picture in the circumstance file of the boy’s entire body clearly demonstrates him in a child’s lifejacket.

“These persons have to count on smugglers, and these smugglers make a decision when and exactly where folks get these journeys,” reported Nick van der Steenhoven, the Greece and Europe advocacy and policy officer for refugee rights charity Select Adore. The father and son, he stated, “became sufferer of the failure of the European Union to provide risk-free and lawful routes” for asylum-seekers.

The father, his defense law firm, Dimitris Choulis, and Olsen paint yet another picture of that night’s situations: one particular of delays and carelessness by the coastline guard. Choulis is filing an application with the Samos prosecutor requesting an investigation. The father, he explained, is persuaded his son would nevertheless be alive if the coastline guard experienced acted faster.

The attorney considers the charges “the products of panic and not the product or service of some broader plan … But routinely we are producing just one much more impediment to these individuals to declare asylum.”


N.A. explained he desperately sought enable to come across his son all evening.

When he managed to drag himself ashore, he claimed, he searched and shouted for his son to no avail. No one had viewed his boy. He wished to dive back again into the waves to seem for him, but did not know how to swim.

Just after searching for two hours, he made a decision to check out to come across aid. He persuaded a team of survivors to go with him, and they trekked via the evening across the tough terrain.

As dawn broke, they arrived upon the coastline guard foot patrol. Court docket documents point out the father managed to convey to the officers that his son was missing, showing them his probable spot on a cell cellphone.

The father reported they soon recognized the locale was too considerably for a lookup on foot on their own, and that reinforcements were being necessary. The passengers ended up taken to the island’s refugee camp for identification and coronavirus tests.

His recollection of the precise timeline of activities from there on is relatively imprecise. A lady came to the father with a photograph and asked if it was his son. It was.

He was instructed the boy had been located but experienced been taken to the clinic and was in a coma. The missing expecting lady had also been identified alive, he listened to.

At some issue the expecting girl also arrived at the camp, and the father’s hopes have been buoyed if she had survived, perhaps his son would far too.

Then he was separated from the other folks and taken for questioning. He questioned to see his son, but was informed he had to be interviewed initially.

When the interview was around, he continue to was not permitted to see his boy or girl. Finally, he stated, the police identified as the hospital. They informed him his son had been useless already when he arrived at the hospital.

“Why did they do this to me?” the father stated, distraught at the notion he had held out bogus hope of his son surviving. “They must not have finished that. They ought to have instructed me the reality.”

The father was then jailed on rates of endangering his son’s lifetime.

“I was heartbroken,” he said. “A man or woman who loses his beloved kinds, his son, and then he goes to prison in that condition, by yourself … Is it humane to do this matter?”

It took a few times and force from his law firm, Choulis, for him to be authorized to see his son’s physique.

The coast guard escorted him to the medical center morgue, handcuffed. When they came back up 15 minutes later on, the guy was not carrying handcuffs anymore and the coast guard officers have been carrying him, Choulis mentioned. He experienced collapsed.

The father was at some point unveiled on the bail affliction that he not leave the state. Refugee corporations put him up in a resort.

The tiny boy’s body lay in the morgue for weeks. His death certification exhibits he was buried on Nov. 30, in the little cemetery higher than the village of Iraion, wherever other victims of migrant shipwrecks lie.

The father has considering that been granted short-term asylum in Greece. But without the need of his son, he claimed, he doesn’t significantly care in which, or if, he life.

“His son was his pal, he was anything to him,” Haidari explained. “He was his hope to be alive.”


Theodora Tongas contributed to this report. Follow Becatoros at https://twitter.com/ElenaBec and Tongas at https://twitter.com/theodoratongas


Adhere to AP’s world migration protection at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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