Child refugees fleeing ISIS in Syria (file(
Child refugees fleeing ISIS in Syria (file(Reuters

A German court Monday put on trial two Syrian men who say they are refugees but face charges of being human traffickers responsible for eight deaths on the high seas a year ago.

Prosecutors charge that Ahmad Ghandour, 18, and his brother Fouad, 20, were working with a Kurdish gang of people smugglers who forced refugees aboard an vessel which was not seaworthy.

The gang had allegedly promised to take Iraqi citizens from the Turkishseaside resort of Bodrum to the Greek island of Kos for around $2,500 (2,200 euros) each, the Cologne court heard.

Prosecutors charge that the migrants had been told they would travel on a yacht but were instead taken by rubber dinghy and prohibited from wearing orange life vests to evade the authorities.

The traffickers, including the two brothers, allegedly forced the 17 refugees aboard the boat, using threats of violence, on the night of November 16-17 last year.

The voyage ended in tragedy when the overloaded boat capsized off Kos and at least eight of the passengers died.

The prosecution based its case in large part on the witness testimony of an Iraqi man who lost his wife, daughter and one of his two sons in the shipwreck. The bereaved man had first accused the Syrian brothers of causing the tragedy after the survivors landed on Kos, said a defense lawyer, adding that Greek authorities at the time dismissed the claim.

The defense insisted the brothers themselves were refugees who made the dangerous crossing several nights later in an overcrowded boat that "almost capsized".

Having arrived via the Balkans route in Germany, Ahmad and Fouad Ghandour then stayed in a refugee shelter in Cologne.

Early this year in Cologne, entirely by coincidence, they again ran into the Iraqi man, who contacted police.

The brothers were arrested on March 24 and kept in detention until May 3, then released pending the trial.

If found guilty, the elder brother could face up to 15 years jail, the younger one up to 10 years of juvenile detention. The verdict is expected on December 6.