In Greece French man on trial for 'smuggling' Syrian in-laws to Europe

A French man will be tried Thursday in Patras in western Greece for attempting to take his Syrian in-laws to Italy, in a bid to avoid a dangerous sea crossing with smugglers.

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Refugees trapped in Greece have been demanding faster reunification processes with relatives in Germany play

Refugees trapped in Greece have been demanding faster reunification processes with relatives in Germany

(AFP/File)
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A French man will be tried Thursday in Patras in western Greece for attempting to take his Syrian in-laws to Italy, in a bid to avoid a dangerous sea crossing with smugglers.

Stephan Pelissier, a 42-year-old legal counsellor from Albi in southwest France, has two young girls with his wife Zena, herself a legal expert and translator of Syrian origin who has been living in France for 10 years.

In August 2015, at the peak of the migrant crisis that saw a million people -- mostly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans -- arrive in Greece to seek refuge in Europe, Zena's parents, brother, sister and a cousin attempted their journey from Damascus.

In Turkey, they were among 64 migrants who boarded a leaky boat, and who were rescued by the Greek coastguard who took them to the island of Samos, Pelissier said.

Two days later they reached Athens and decided to attempt a second dangerous crossing with smugglers -- this time between Greece and Italy.

Worried for his wife's family, Pelissier said this was the final straw.

"There, I said, 'Stop'. We cannot leave them like that," he told AFP.

Listening only to "his instinct and his heart", he said he jumped into his car and drove to Ancona before sailing to Patras on a ferry.

The next day, as Pelissier and his in-laws boarded a boat back to Ancona, they were all arrested.

The Syrians were quickly released, but Pelissier was taken for a smuggler, despite showing his family record book.

He was initially given a caution of 300 euros ($350), but subsequently prosecuted and faces up to 10 years in prison.

Pelissier said: "The criminals are not us, it's the Syrian regime."

Syria's war, which erupted in 2011 with a government crackdown on protests, has forced over five million people to flee their country, the UN says.

The legal counsellor, who is back in France and will not attend his trial, will argue that the offence of aiding illegal immigrants is not recognised in Greece when the people being helped are subject to international protection.

Pelissier said he acted in good faith, believing the same law applied in Greece as in France, which exempts family members who assist an illegal immigrant.

This is now the case for his extended family, who were eventually granted asylum for 10 years in France.

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