The story of Seán Binder: a tale of compassion for refugees

The story of Seán Binder: a tale of compassion for refugees

ON Friday, November 18 a young man of German and Vietnamese heritage who was raised here in West Kerry stood before a court in Greece. 

Seán Binder is this young man’s name and I think that his is a story reveals a harsh reality about the life we live today.

In 2018, Seán was working as a volunteer on the island of Lesbos in Greece helping the thousands of refugees and migrants who were arriving in Europe from countries that were being torn apart by war and conflict.

Most of these people arrived with nothing besides the clothes on their backs and maybe a mobile phone.  Seán handed out blankets to keep them warm at night.

He gave water to those who were thirsty.

And whenever boats were in danger of sinking at sea, he helped the people on those boats come ashore, saving them from drowning.

His acts show the human compassion that is such a part of Seán’s character, a compassion which drove him to help people who were in distress.

This is why it’s so hard to make sense of the next part of his story.

Because Seán saved these refugees from the sea by helping them land on Lesbos, he and 23 other volunteers are being accused of human trafficking, a crime that carries a maximum prison sentence of 25 years in Greece.

They were apprehended by the police and spent three and a half months in prison without trial.  This wasn’t just any old prison either.

Because they were accused of such serious crimes, they were incarcerated along with the most violent criminals, including murderers.

They were eventually released on bail and allowed to return to their home countries.

But since then, Seán has been in limbo waiting for his trial to begin.

That trial began today but news is now emerging that it has been adjourned until a higher court and more qualified judges are able to hear the case.

According to reports coming from Greece, Seán is angry about this decision.

This case has been hanging over his head for three years now, which has meant he has felt unable to continue with his life.  He wants it to come to an end.

He is also angry because he thinks the Greek authorities are using his case to issue a warning to people like him and his fellow volunteers.

A warning not to help refugees, not to feel that there is any solidarity between us, people who are safe and comfortable here in Europe, and them, people whose lives are so difficult that they are willing to take the risk of climbing onto makeshift boats and setting sail for our shores.

“I am angry that the legal requirement to try and help people in distress out at sea is being criminalised right now,” said Séan.  “How can this be right?”

Rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch agree with Seán.

They think that the case being taken against him is a farce.

Seán’s father was a refugee from Vietnam when he met his mother in Germany.

This means that Seán has a personal understanding and empathy with the plight of refugees.

But the rest of us shouldn’t need to have a personal connection with refugees in order to feel compassion for them.

Christmas is almost upon us and most of you reading this will be able to claim a Christian heritage.

European culture was founded on Christianity for the most part, at least here in western Europe.

If a trace of that culture still lives on in us, if we believe we are still Christian at heart, we should all be supporting Seán and his fellow volunteers.

Jesus and his family were themselves refugees when they were forced to flee Bethlehem for Egypt because King Herod wanted him dead.

If Jesus was a real person who walked on this earth two thousand years ago, we all know that he would have stood on the side of refugees, offering them what hope and shelter he could.

If he were to return here again, I believe that he would walk shoulder to shoulder with the refugees of today.

I also believe that people like Seán Binder would be walking right beside him.