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11th Jul 2020

Migrants claim being shot by Greek police, Athens denies

  • "No shots have been fired by Greek border forces", a Greek spokesman said (Photo: euoparl.europa.eu)

Turkey has accused Greece of using live ammunition against migrants, killing one man, amid growing violence on the EU border.

Greek bullets injured six people on Wednesday (4 March), one of whom was shot in the chest and later died, Ekrem Canalp, the governor of Edirne, a Turkish border town said.

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The incident took place near the Turkish and Greek gates of Pazarkule and Kastanies, he said in a statement.

"Members of the Turkish parliament's human rights commission, among others, witnessed the events," the Turkish governor said.

A Turkish doctor at the Edirne hospital, Mustafa Burak, corroborated the injuries to British news agency Reuters.

One of the injured men, Adel Jaberi from Iran, also told Reuters: "We threw stones at them [Greek forces] as they didn't open the border. Then they fired tear gas. Because the tear gas was not effective, they got out rifles and shot us with the rifles".

And Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeated the accusations in a speech the same day.

"Greeks who try all kinds of methods to keep refugees away from their countries - from drowning them at sea to shooting at them with bullets - should not forget that they may need to be shown the same mercy some day," he said.

A Greek government spokesman, Stelios Petsas, described it all as "Turkish propaganda".

"No shots have been fired by Greek border forces against any individuals attempting to enter Greece illegally. The contrary amounts to no more than gross and deliberate misinformation," he said.

But accusations have mounted in recent days.

Three men from Afghanistan and Senegal told British broadcaster the BBC that Greek forces had shot dead two Syrians on Tuesday, prompting Greek denials.

Two Turkish officials told Reuters Greek forces had killed a Syrian man near the Turkish border town of Enez on Monday in what Greece also called "fake news".

And Greece's use of long-range tear gas projectiles - which fly with more force and which have a pointed tip - is putting people's lives at risk, investigative website Bellingcat has said.

Meanwhile, violence flared at the Kastanies border crossing on Wednesday, where Greek police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse migrants and where Turkish police fired tear gas at Greek police.

A Greek official told Reuters the Turkish police did it to help migrants break through and "to provoke [us]".

But a Turkish official said: "The Turkish police were responding with tear gas to Greek police firing bullets at the migrants. Turkish police ... aimed to protect the migrants from Greek fire".

Many of the allegations were hard to verify, international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted.

"However, Greek forces appear to have used excessive or disproportionate force" in repelling migrants in recent days, it said.

The Greek coastguard had also been filmed shoving around migrant dinghies and firing into the water beside them, putting people at risk, HRW noted.

And groups of unknown "masked men" using "vigilante violence" were helping Greek police to push back migrants in some cases, the NGO added.

The violence comes amid EU debate on the niceties of asylum law and on the geopolitics of the Syria conflict.

It also comes amid a show of EU solidarity with Greece, which the European Commission has called Europe's "shield".

"I am not in charge of operations, it is not up to the commission to offer any opinion or judgement on a situation which is exceptional," Margaritis Schinas, an EU commissioner, said on Wednesday when asked if Greece was allowed to fire rubber bullets at asylum seekers.

But for HRW's Lotte Leicht, "praising Greek border guards using tear gas and other violent means to prevent crossing at the land border and engaging in dangerous, and possibly criminal, behaviour against asylum seekers and migrants at sea, is, quite frankly, irresponsible".

"If the EU's highest officials are willing to turn a blind eye to such abuses ... they will invite more of the same," she said.

Green light

Migrants started massing on the Greek border last week after Erdoğan gave them the green light in protest at lack of EU help in the Syria war.

The reports have prompted some far-right EU politicians, such as France's Marine Le Pen, to speak of a new "invasion" of Europe.

Hungary's right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orban, said on Wednesday that 130,000 people had crossed into Greece.

That figure was also being used by Turkey and by Russia and was "valid and correct", the Turkish EU embassy told EUobserver.

But in reality, there were just 15,000 or so people on the Greek border so far and no one was getting through, Greece has said.

Commission silent on Greece suspending asylum claims

Greece is now "Europe's shield" said the European Commission, as it shores up border patrols on the Turkish border. But when it comes to Greece suspending asylum claims, the same institution was unable to comment.

Turkey calls for EU action on Idlib

The EU must help Turkey in Syria as well as honour a 2016 migration pact if it wanted the flow of refugees to end, Turkey's EU embassy has said.

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