Three Spanish firefighters returned to Greek courts this week, where they were acquitted from charges of human trafficking and smuggling across international borders.
The three men, founding members of the Spanish Professional Emergency Aid Association (Proem-Aid), were arrested in January 2016 on the Greek island Lesvos while assisting in rescue missions of sinking migrant boats crossing the Aegean Sea. If found guilty, the men would have faced up to 10 years in prison.
Proem-Aid recruits and trains volunteers to work effectively in harsh or extreme conditions. The association was founded in response to the humanitarian emergency of refugee crossings in the Mediterranean in 2015.
Manuel Blanco, Julio Latorre and Jose Enrique Rodriguez were aboard a Danish ship on January 14, 2016, searching for a boat which had reportedly capsized off the shore of Lesvos in the night. They were intercepted by the Greek Coast Guard and accused of illegally attempting to smuggle asylum seekers onto EU soil.
Blanco, Latorre and Rodriguez spent three days detained in Mytilene before they were released on bail of 5,000 euros each. Many nonprofit and humanitarian groups working on Lesvos at the time decried the charges against them and praised the work they were doing to save lives in the stretch of water between Turkey and Greece.
The firemen, all three from Seville, returned to Mytilene for their hearing last week, accompanied by their lawyer, Haris Petsikos.
In the trial hearing, Blanco took the stand to ascertain that they had always contacted the Greek Coast Guard before setting out to respond to a boat spotting and that they had been working with the support of Spanish authorities including the Foreign Affairs Minister Alfonso Dastis. He entered email exchanges into evidence.
The judge cleared all charges from the Spaniards on May 7.
“Justice has been served!” Proem-Aid tweeted in response.
¡Se ha hecho JUSTICIA! Manuel Blanco, Julio Latorre y Quique Rodríguez han sido absueltos de todos los cargos.
Sin duda, esta representa una gran victoria de la ayuda humanitaria.
¡Volveremos para salvar vidas! #CondenadosAsalvarVidas
— PROEMAID (@proemaid) May 7, 2018
The men announced that they will return to their work in the Aegean, where migrant boats continue to cross perilously. Since the start of 2018, Lesbos has received 5,649 migrants and refugees via the sea, and the island continues to face issues of overcrowding.