Monday 16 September 2019

Trinity graduate facing up to 20 years in Greek jail on human trafficking charges

Mother protests son's innocence as police claim volunteer helped to smuggle refugees into Lesbos

Fanny Binder, who has flown to Greece, with a photo of her son Sean at his university graduation. Photo: Darragh McSweeney
Fanny Binder, who has flown to Greece, with a photo of her son Sean at his university graduation. Photo: Darragh McSweeney
Laura Lynott

Laura Lynott

The mother of a Trinity College graduate has flown to Lesbos to be by her son's side as he faces up to 20 years in a Greek prison.

Sean Binder (24), from Togher, Co Cork is facing the lengthy term after Greek police arrested him and colleague Sarah Mardini on suspicion of human trafficking, money laundering, espionage and being a member of a criminal organisation.

Sean Binder
Sean Binder

Mr Binder had been a volunteer worker on the island with NGO Emergency Response Centre International. One of the NGO's leaders, Greek national Nassos Karakitsos, was also arrested.

A graduate in political science, economics, sociology and philosophy at Trinity, Mr Binder also gained a masters in international relations theory at the London School of Economics.

He was arrested in February in Lesbos but returned to Ireland on several occasions.

However, last Monday an arrest warrant was issued, and Mr Binder handed himself into police after learning that Ms Mardini, whose sister Yusra swam for the refugee Olympic team in Rio in 2016, had been detained.

Mr Binder's mother Fanny (49) told the Irish Independent: "I don't know what to do, how to be, I can't sleep, I've taken time off work - my son is a good man.

"Sean went out to Lesbos to help refugees, as he wants to work in a humanitarian field and he's not done anything wrong.

"Now he's facing going to prison and I'm really worried for him - he's a college boy, not someone who should be going to prison for something he didn't do." Mr Binder's solicitor said the criminal accusations are from as far back as 2016 - a time he said his client was not even on the island.

Greek police confirmed the arrests and that a total of 30 people from the same organisation were being investigated under suspicion they smuggled migrants into Greece, spied and laundered money.

"This isn't Sean," Ms Binder said. "He's been working for an NGO on Lesbos since last autumn and they mostly work in migrant camps, volunteering, giving medical help and education to children, washing blankets and everything that needs to be done in a camp.

"Sean got interested in helping those fleeing conflict because it is part of his heritage.

"His father, Van Khon, was a Vietnamese refugee who fled to Germany, where I met him, after the Vietnam War.

"This is an issue close to his heart and I really didn't want him to go to Syria. But when he said Lesbos, I thought, fine - that's in Europe - that's fine but clearly it wasn't fine."

Only last month, Mr Binder's grandmother - Ms Binder's mother - Eta Bode (72) died.

"I feel like I've lost two of the most important people in my life and I don't know what to do," Mr Binder's mother said.

Ms Binder, who is a nutritional chef, said her son's only aspiration in life was "to make the world a better place, to do his bit".

Ms Binder claimed that she has tried to get help from the Department of Foreign Affairs but has been told that Sean isn't technically an Irish citizen. Sean, who was born in Germany, has lived in Ireland since the age of five.

Ms Binder has sought help from the German embassy in Athens but feels that no tangible assistance has been given to free her son.

Mr Binder's solicitor Haris Petsikos told the Irish Independent the accusations against Sean and Sarah - who is also his client - are among "the most serious possible".

Irish Independent

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