A Greek court has sentenced a Syrian refugee to 52 years in prison for “illegally” crossing into the country with his family in the midst of the country’s crackdown on irregular migration through Turkey last year.

Identified only by the initials KS in court, the refugee was handed the heavy sentence in a Mytiline court on the Greek island of Lesbos on Friday.

According to campaigners, KS had crossed from Turkey to the Greek island of Chios by boat with his family, including three young children, and dozens of others in early March 2020.

The family had originally sought refuge in Turkey after fleeing the civil war in Syria. However, KS claims that he had refused to participate in the Turkish military operation in Libya and was briefly imprisoned as a result.

Following his release, he and his family sought to escape to Greece, traveling to Chios, the closest island by boat, only to be denied the right to asylum upon arrival due to a controversial policy introduced earlier that month.

At the start of March, not long before the family arrived on Greece’s shores, the Greek government had ruled to temporarily block new asylum applications for at least a month after Turkey “opened the doors” for migrants to travel to the EU.

At the time, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was no longer able to cope with the amount of people fleeing Syria’s war.

Demanding that EU countries do more to ease the pressure on Turkey to take in refugees, Erdogan allowed asylum seekers and migrants to cross into neighbouring EU member states, prompting a rush of arrivals at the Greek border.

In response, Greece issued a strong warning that it would “protect” its borders, with Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis telling migrants and asylum seekers that if they attempted “to enter Greece illegally” they would be turned back.

Caught up in the chaos at the Greek-Turkish border, KS was one of many to be hit with “illegal entry” charges.