Syrian refugee sentenced to 52 years in Greece over ‘illegal’ crossing from Turkey

A Greek court has sentenced a Syrian refugee to 52 years in prison on charges of “illegally” crossing into the country through neighbouring Turkey, the Independent reported on Wednesday.

Identified as K.S., the refugee had crossed from Turkey to the Greek island of Chios by boat with his family, including three children, and dozens of others in early March of last year, Independent said, when Athens maintained a crackdown on irregular migration through Turkey.

Turkey announced in late February of last year it would no longer prevent migrants trying to reach Europe, a move that led to violent clashes between Greek border police and refugees. Greek officials in March said they had stopped nearly 10,000 migrants crossing the land border with Turkey and ruled to temporarily block new asylum applications from the neighbouring country for at least a month.

K.S. and his family fled the civil war in Syria and originally sought refuge in Turkey, the Independent said, but K.S. claimed he was briefly imprisoned in the country after refusing to to participate in the Turkish military operation in Libya.

He and his family sought to escape to Greece after his release, it said, travelling by boat to the island of Chios, where K.S. was denied asylum upon arrival due to a controversial policy put into effect earlier that month.

K.S. was hit with “illegal entry” charges, but also accused of “facilitating illegal entry” and causing a “shipwreck” after Greek authorities accused him of having been at the helm of the boat that carried his family and as many as 40 others to Greek shores.

Migrants have been at the heart of tensions between Greece and Turkey for years.

Earlier this month, Greece accused Turkey of pushing migrant boats back into Greek waters, “in an effort to provoke an escalation”. Ankara has rejected the claims, blaming Athens for distorting the truth.