The Guardian

Arrest of Syrian 'hero swimmer' puts Lesbos refugees back in spotlight

Sara Mardini’s case adds to fears that rescue work is being criminalised and raises questions about NGO
Sara Mardini, who with her sister helped save 18 fellow refugees in 2015, has been charged with people smuggling. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Greece’s high-security Korydallos prison acknowledges that Sara Mardini is one of its rarer inmates. For a week, the Syrian refugee, a hero among human rights defenders, has been detained in its women’s wing on charges so serious they have elicited baffled dismay.

The 23-year-old, who saved 18 refugees in 2015 by swimming their waterlogged dingy to the shores of Lesbos with her Olympian sister, is accused of people smuggling, espionage and membership of a criminal organisation – crimes allegedly committed since returning to work with an NGO on the island. Under Greek law, Mardini can be held in custody pending trial for up to 18 months.

“She is in a state of disbelief,” said her lawyer,

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