Greece: Two arrested and charged with "facilitating illegal immigration" for refugee transport effort denouncing EU policies


Two political activists from the Basque Country have been detained in Greece and charged with "facilitating illegal immigration" after attempting to transport eight refugees out of the country, in an "initiative of solidarity in denunciation of unjust European migration policies and in defence of human rights."

Support our work: become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.

Night ferry to Italy

Mikel Zuloaga, from Biscay, and Begoña Huarte, from Navarre, were arrested on the evening of 27 December in the Greek port of Igoumenitsa whilst attempting to board a night ferry to Italy in a camper van with eight people hidden inside from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

Six of the eight were released without charge as they had already applied for asylum in Greece and the other two are now in the process of doing so, according to Spanish press reports.

The two activists appeared before a judge on Thursday (28 December) and were charged with facilitating illegal immigration and serious negligence towards the integrity of the eight refugees, due to the interior of the camper van used not meeting the necessary safety requirements.

A hearing to decide whether they will be held in preventive detention or released on bail is taking place today, and the lawyer for the defence will also present their arguments: that they sought to create discussion on the topic and they are happy they have done so; that if the Spanish government kept its promises regarding relocation and resettlement of refugees they would not have had to do what they did; and that the act had a purely political and humanitarian logic.

"The right to disobey"

A video shared on various social networks shows Zuloaga, sat alongside Huarte, saying:

"We declare publicly that we have illegally transported refugees… We obey human rights and openly disobey European governments that have converted the frontiers into spaces of death, detention and dehumanisation for thousands of people… While governments continue breaching human rights and fail to fulfil their scrawny quotas [for relocating and resettling refugees] social organisations, the citizenry and people of good faith have the right to disobey by bringing refugees and making the Basque Country a land of welcome."

Anabel Sanz, a spokesperson for the Basque refugee support organisation Plataforma Ongi Etorri Errefuxiatuak (Refugees Welcome), has said that the two are being assisted by Greek human rights lawyers, while the Basque regional government has said that it understands their "indignation and disagreement" but not their way of expressing it.

On 28 December dozens of individuals and representatives of campaign groups, political organisations and trade unions gathered in Bilbao to express their support, and called for civil disobedience in the face of "the inhuman treatment" that migrants and refugees face at the hands of European authorities.

Solidarity protests have been announced in Bilbao, San Sebastian, Barcelona, Vitoria-Gasteiz and Pamplona, while a number of local councils in the Basque Country are planning to meet to formulate a statement in support of the two and to demand their freedom.

Relocation, relocation, no relocation

As if to demonstrate the point Zuloaga and Huarte sought to make regarding European governments' failure to take in refugees living in Greece and Italy, on Thursday (28 December) 198 refugees arrived in Spain from Greece as part of the EU's relocation scheme.

While this is the largest group to arrive in the country so far, it brings the total number of refugees relocated from Greece to Spain to just 898, a puny 5% of the 17,337 promised in September 2015 - although in this regard the Spanish government is no better or worse than the majority of its European counterparts, who as of early December had collectively managed to relocate just 5.1% of the 160,000 refugees (pdf) originally agreed.

In the group of new arrivals to Spain are 144 Syrians, 52 Iraqis, one Eritrean and one Iranian; or divided another way there are 65 men, 49 women and 84 children. There are 83 families, whose members make up the majority of the group.
The Spanish Refugee Support Commission (Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado, CEAR) has denounced the "infuriating slowness" of the EU and the Spanish government's relocation efforts, in contrast to the "surprising speed" with which new obstacles have been established to prevent refugees entering or moving within Europe.

Petition in support

A petition to the Greek justice ministry has been launched in support of Zuloaga and Huarte, calling on the authorities to release them.

It argues that:

"Mikel and Begoña did not traffic in human beings, but rather, through an act of disobedience with European migration leyes, tried to carry out an action of solidarity and public denunciation. An act that counted on the finance and support of people belonging to diverse collectives and social movements.

The Greek authorities must release Mikel and Begoña."


La Fiscalía griega acusa a Begoña Huarte y Mikel Zuloaga de "favorecer la inmigración ilegal", Noticias de Navarra, 28 December 2016

Dos vascos, detenidos en Grecia por intentar trasladar a refugiados,, 28 December 2016

Detienen en Grecia a un vizcaíno por intentar trasladar a Euskadi a 8 refugiados en una autocaravana, El Correo, 28 December 2016,

Una activista navarra detenida por intentar trasladar a un grupo de refugiados desde Grecia, Pamplona Actual, 28 December 2016

'Ongi Etorri Errefuxiatuak' convoca concentraciones en protesta por la detención de Zuloaga y Huarte, El Diario, 29 December 2016

Detenidos en Grecia dos españoles que llevaban a ocho refugiados en una caravan, El País, 29 December 2016

Zuloaga y Huarte, acusados de favorecer la inmigración illegal, Noticias de Gipuzkoa, 30 December 2016

Multitudinario y plural respaldo a la acción humanitaria de Mikel Zuloaga y Begoña Huarte en Bilbo, Naiz, 28 December 2016

198 refugiados llegan a España, el contingente más numeroso hasta ahora, El País, 28 December 2016

Our work is only possible with your support.
Become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.


Spotted an error? If you've spotted a problem with this page, just click once to let us know.

Report error