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A migrant father has been charged with his son’s death while traveling to Greece.

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A migrant father has been charged with his son's death while traveling to Greece.
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A migrant father has been charged with his son's death while traveling to Greece.

A migrant father has been charged with his son’s death while traveling to Greece.

 

A boy’s grave sits atop a pine-covered hill overlooking the sparkling blue Aegean, with a teddy bear leaning against the white marble tombstone. His first boat ride was also his last, as he drowned before reaching the age of six.

A portrait of an Afghan boy with a tuft of spiky hair peers out of his gravestone, a smirk on his face. The inscription reads, “He drowned in a shipwreck.” “It wasn’t the sea, it wasn’t the wind; it was policies and fear,” says the poet.

In the case of the boy’s 25-year-old father, who is mourning the loss of his only child, those migration policies are being called into question. The father has now been charged with child endangerment for taking his son on the risky trip from Turkey to the neighboring Greek island of Samos. He could spend up to ten years in jail if convicted.

The charges are a stark contrast to Greece’s prior prosecution of migrants who survived shipwrecks. This is thought to be the first time in the European Union that a surviving parent faces criminal charges for their child’s death while seeking a better life in Europe.

On a freezing November night, the father’s hopes were dashed against the rocks of Samos, a beautiful island that also houses Greece’s most overcrowded refugee camp.

“I don’t know how to live without him,” the young man said softly as a tear streamed down his face. “In my life, he was the only one I had. He was the source of all my hopes.”

He now always considers suicide, he claims. He no longer refers to the boy by his given name. The father decided to talk to The Associated Press on the condition that he be known only by his initials, N.A., and that his son remain anonymous.

It’s unclear why Greek authorities went to such lengths to charge this guy because so many people have been in his shoes. Activists claim the change represents a hardening of Greece’s already stringent migration policies, or that it is an effort to redirect attention away from potential coast guard incompetence.

However, Notis Mitarachi, the Minister of Migration, dismissed the notion that the case signaled a change in strategy.

“If there is a loss of human life, it must be investigated if any people behaved against the law, either negligently or deliberately,” Mitarachi said, adding that each occurrence is handled differently depending on the circumstances.

He added that asylum seekers’ lives are not in danger in Turkey, which the EU has deemed safe.

“Those who want to get into unseaworthy vessels, powered by people who have no experience at sea, clearly put human lives in danger,” he said.

The father claimed that he had no choice but to move. His asylum claim in Turkey had been denied twice, and he was afraid of being deported to Afghanistan, where he had fled when he was nine years old. He wanted his son to go to school so that, unlike him, he could learn to read and write and pursue his ambition of becoming a police officer.

“I didn’t come here to have a nice time. I felt obligated to do so. He explained, “I didn’t have any other options in my life.” “I made the decision to go for my son’s and my own futures, so that we can find a place to live and my son can study.”

Greece, located on the EU’s southeastern border and bordering Turkey for thousands of kilometers, has found itself at the center of Europe’s migration crisis. According to United Nations refugee agency estimates, more than 1.2 million people migrated along the eastern Mediterranean migration route from 2014 to 2020, with the vast majority passing through Greece. Over 2,000 people died or went missing.

As ties between Greece and Turkey deteriorated in March, Turkey declared that its borders with the EU would be opened, sending thousands of migrants to the Greek border. Greece accused Turkey of using migrants’ desperation as a shield, and asylum applications were temporarily halted.

Pushbacks, or the illegal expulsion of migrants without allowing them to apply for asylum, have also been recorded by aid groups and asylum seekers. They say that the Greek coast guard picks up new immigrants and tows them in life rafts into Turkish waters, a claim that Greek authorities categorically refute.

From interviews with the father, another passenger, the man who first announced their arrival, the coast guard, and legal records, the AP pieced together what happened in the case of this mild-mannered father and his dead son.

After his second asylum denial in Turkey, where he had lived for years, N.A., who was divorced and raising his son alone, said he received a smuggler’s number from a friend.

The 24 passengers, all Afghans, gathered in a house in the Turkish coastal town of Izmir to begin their journey to Europe. Ebrahim Haidari, a 29-year-old construction worker, and his wife were among them.

The little boy, according to Haidari, was a bright, friendly child who easily struck up conversations with other passengers and joked with the smugglers in fluent Turkish. He was struck by the boy’s strong bond with his young father, who Haidari described as a big brother and friend to the boy as well as a father.

The group boarded a truck on Nov. 7, a cold, cloudy, and windy night, and drove to a wooded area of the Turkish coast, arriving about 10 p.m.

According to Haidari, there were four smugglers in total. The sea was rough, and the passengers were concerned, particularly because some of them couldn’t swim. The smugglers, on the other hand, told them that the weather would change.

The boy was unconcerned about the adults’ worries. His father said that he had never been to the sea before and that he was eager to sail in a cruise.

The boat was an inflatable dinghy, which smugglers on the Turkish coast prefer. They’re cheap and disposable, so they’re normally overcrowded, and a passenger is forced to steer to keep the smugglers from being apprehended. One of the smugglers was armed at the very least.

Everyone was pushed into the boat after putting on their lifejackets, according to Haidari and the father. One smuggler rode a short distance before handing the steering wheel to a passenger and instructing him to drive toward a distant light. The smuggler dove overboard and swam away in a moment.

The father, who sat directly in front of Haidari and his wife, held his son tightly in his arms.

The weather began to deteriorate when one hour turned into two, then three. The wind stirred up ever-larger waves in the water, and the inexperienced named captain struggled to keep the boat under control.

“I’m not sure what the smugglers were thinking when they left us in such a dangerous situation,” Haidari said. “We had little experience with the sea.”

The dinghy took on water as it was tossed about by the waves. People yelled that they were going to die. Worse, fuel was running out — the smugglers had only given them enough to get to Greece.

Out of the darkness, the outline of a mountain loomed. They turned toward it, terrified of drowning at sea.

The coastline, however, was rocky and jagged. The dinghy was slammed against the rocks by the waves once, then twice. The boat shattered into two pieces. The passengers were in the water before they even realized it.

The boy slipped out of his father’s embrace as they tumbled into the murky water. Over the man’s head, the waves closed in.

He couldn’t dive, but his lifejacket finally took him to the sea. He listened for his boy’s voice as he scanned the waves for him. He yelled until he was hoarse from the salt water. There’s nothing.

He sunk to the bottom of the sea once more. A hand caught his and pulled him toward a rock, seemingly out of nowhere. He has no idea who it was, but he knows it was someone who saved his life.

All was in disarray. People were frantically looking for their brothers, wives, and children. Haidari and his wife tried to stay afloat in the waves, moaning and vomiting seawater.

A boat appeared at one stage, according to N.A. and Haidari, and turned on a searchlight. The survivors raised their hands and yelled for assistance, but the boat continued on its way.

A second boat appeared 15 to 20 minutes later, according to Haidari. They hoped for a rescue once more, but the ship shone its searchlights and sailed on.

“Perhaps they didn’t notice us or didn’t want to assist us,” Haidari speculated.

The crew, according to the father, saw him and the people in the water. When he shouted and waved, the patrol boat turned its searchlight on him, he said.

He said, “They didn’t help.” “They were going around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around

The coast guard’s account differs significantly on the critical issue of whether it responded quickly enough and whether its patrol boats saw the fleeing migrants.

The Samos coast guard notified the prosecutor of a man’s arrest for “exposing his minor son to danger during the alleged illegal entry into the country by sea,” according to legal documents obtained by the Associated Press.

The Greek Shipping and Island Policy Ministry, which oversees the coast guard, refused to allow Samos coast guard officials to talk to the Associated Press. The prosecutor did not respond to a request for an interview.

On the other hand, a Samos coast guard official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, detailed the authorities’ account of events that night.

An English-speaking man alerted the coast guard about midnight with coordinates for a potential migrant boat, the official said. The coordinates were located on land on Cape Prasso, a rugged, five-kilometer-long (three-mile-long) peninsula with steep rocky slopes.

Tommy Olsen, the founder of Aegean Boat Study, a Norwegian nonprofit that tracks and reports on arrivals on Greek islands, was the man in question. People who are unable to contact Greek authorities for fear of retaliation should instead contact Olsen, according to him.

Olsen said he got a call that night from someone saying a party had arrived on Samos, but some people were missing. Olsen said he immediately notified the coast guard on Samos and sent them the coordinates.

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