Syrian refugee volunteer accused of helping migrants freed on bail: lawyer

Athens (AFP) –


A Greek court has agreed to release Syrian refugee Sarah Mardini, once lauded for helping to save people in a sinking dinghy at sea, who was detained in August accused of helping illicit migrant networks, her lawyer said Tuesday.

The 23-year-old, who was volunteering on the island of Lesbos for the aid group Emergency Response Centre International when she was arrested, has been held in provisional detention in a prison near Athens in a case that has sparked outrage and protest.

Out of a total of 30 members of the ERCI questioned by police, five were detained including Mardini and the group's founder Panos Moraitis.

"After new evidence in the investigation" Vassilis Spyrou, lawyer for Moraitis, said one of those detained was freed on parole last week, followed on Thursday by the four others, including Mardini, who were released on bail.

He said the court had set the bail for the founder at 10,000 euros and 5,000 euros for the others.

The group, who deny the charges, were accused of offering "direct assistance to migrant trafficking networks", asking for advance information about arrivals and organising landings without giving the authorities forewarning.

Mardini and her sister Yusra made headlines in 2015, when they used their swimming skills to pull to safety their water-logged boat with another 18 people onboard on its journey from Turkey to Lesbos.

The following year Yusra, now a UNHCR goodwill ambassador, participated on the refugee team at the Rio 2016 Olympics and Mardini went on to win a scholarship studying economics and social sciences at Bard College in Berlin.

Lesbos has been a key gateway into the European Union since the start of the bloc's migration crisis in 2015.

At the height of the influx, some 5,000 migrants and refugees, mostly from war-torn Syria, landed on the island's beaches on a daily basis.