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

On a pine-covered hill above the sparkling blue Aegean lies a boy's grave, a teddy bear leaning against the white marble tombstone. His first boat ride was his last — the sea claimed him before his sixth birthday.
Representative Image
Representative Image

Athens

The Afghan child with a tuft of spiky hair stares out of a photo on his gravestone, a hint of a smile on his lips. “He drowned in a shipwreck,” the inscription reads. “It wasn't the sea, it wasn't the wind, it is the policies and fear.” 
Those migration policies are now being called into question in the case of the boy's 25-year-old father, who is grieving the loss of his only child. Already devastated, the father has found himself charged with child endangerment for taking his son on the perilous journey from Turkey to the nearby Greek island of Samos. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison. 
The charges are a stark departure from Greece's previous treatment of migrant shipwreck survivors. This is believed to be the first time in the European Union that a surviving parent faces criminal prosecution for the death of their child in the pursuit of a better life in Europe. 
The father's hopes were dashed on a cold November night against the rocks of Samos, a picturesque island that also houses Greece's most overcrowded refugee camp. 
“Without him I don't know how to live,” the young man said, his soft voice breaking as a tear rolled down his cheek. “He is the only one I had in my life. All my hopes were him.” Now, he says, he often thinks of killing himself. He no longer mentions the child's name. The father agreed speak to The Associated Press on condition he only be identified by his initials, N.A., and that his son wouldn't be named. 
It is not entirely clear why Greek authorities took the extreme step of charging this man when so many others have been in his place. Activists suspect the move indicates a hardening of Greece's already restrictive migration policies, or suggest it could be an attempt to divert attention from possible negligence by the coast guard. 
But Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi rejected the idea that the case heralded a change in policy. 
“If there is the loss of human life, it must be investigated whether some people, through negligence or deliberately, acted outside the limits of the law,” Mitarachi said, adding that each incident is treated according to its circumstances. 
He noted that the lives of asylum-seekers aren't in danger in Turkey, a country the EU has deemed safe. 
“The people who choose to get into boats which are unseaworthy, and are driven by people who have no experience of the sea, obviously put human lives at risk,” he said. 
The father said he had no choice but to make the journey. His asylum application in Turkey had been rejected twice and he feared deportation to Afghanistan, a country he fled at the age of 9. He wanted his son to go to school, where, unlike him, the boy could learn to read and write, and eventually fulfil his dream of becoming a police officer. 
“I didn't come here for fun. I was compelled. I didn't have another way in my life,” he said. “I decided to go for the future of my son, for my future, so we can go somewhere to live, and my son can study.” 
At the southeastern edge of the EU and with thousands of kilometres of coastline bordering Turkey, Greece has found itself on the frontline of Europe's migration crisis. 
From 2014 to 2020, more than 1.2 million people travelled along the eastern Mediterranean migration route, the vast majority through Greece, according to figures from the UN refugee agency. More than 2,000 died or went missing. 
Last March, as Greek-Turkish relations soured, Turkey announced its borders to the EU were open, sending thousands of migrants to the Greek border. Greece accused Turkey of weaponizing the desperation of migrants and temporarily suspended asylum applications. 
Aid groups and asylum seekers have also complained of pushbacks, the illegal deportation of migrants without allowing them to apply for asylum. They accuse Greece's coast guard of picking up new arrivals and towing them in life rafts towards Turkish waters — a claim vehemently denied by Greek authorities. 
The AP has pieced together what happened in the case of this mild-mannered father and his dead son from interviews with the father, another passenger, the man who first reported their arrival, the coast guard and legal documents. 
Divorced and raising his son alone, N.A. said he obtained a smuggler's number from a neighbour after his second asylum rejection in Turkey, where he had lived for years. 
Their journey to Europe began in the Turkish coastal town of Izmir, where the 24 passengers, all Afghans, gathered in a house. Among them were Ebrahim Haidari, a 29-year-old construction worker, and his wife. 
Haidari remembers the little boy as an intelligent, sweet child who easily struck up conversations with the other passengers and joked with the smugglers in fluent Turkish. He was struck by the close relationship between the boy and his young father, who Haidari said was as much a big brother and friend to the child as a father. 
On Nov. 7, a cold, cloudy, windy night, the group boarded a truck headed to a wooded part of the Turkish coast, arriving at around 10 p.m. 
There were four smugglers in all, Haidari said. The sea wasn't particularly calm and the passengers were worried, especially since at least some couldn't swim. But the smugglers assured them the weather would improve. 

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