Greece and Turkey have come under fire from Amnesty International, which accused Athens border forces of using live ammunition to disperse migrants and Ankara of recklessly giving migrants hope to push its political agenda.
Tens of thousands of migrants had gathered at the border between the two countries trying to get into EU member Greece. This was after Turkey said on February 28 it would no longer keep the migrants on its territory as part of a 2016 deal with Brussels reached in return for European aid for the refugees.
Greece has used tear gas and water cannon to deter the migrants.
Amnesty said amid violence at the border, at least two men were killed, and a woman remains missing”, claiming that Greek border forces fired live ammunition and teargas against asylum-seekers and migrants.
On March 27, Ankara said it had sent some 6,000 migrants waiting at the Turkish-Greek border to cross into the European Union to cities inside the country, as part of measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
“Greek authorities repressed the movement of people attempting to cross by bolstering border control, sending in police and army forces who used teargas, water cannons, plastic bullets, and live ammunition,” Amnesty said in a press release.
“People traveled from Turkey to Greece to seek safety, yet they were met with violence so serious that at least two were tragically killed. Allegations of violence must be promptly and impartially investigated. Everyone should be treated humanely, shielded from violence, and be granted access to protection in the countries where they are seeking safety,” said Massimo Moratti, Deputy Director of the Amnesty International Europe Regional Office.
Amnesty International said it had confirmed the deaths of two men at the Greece/Turkey land border on 2 and 4 March.
“A third person, Fatma (not her real name) from Syria, is missing and presumed dead after she and her husband were separated from their six children while attempting to cross the Evros/Meric River, south of Edirne, to enter Greece,” Amnesty’s statement read.
Amnesty International cited her husband Ahmed’s testimony saying that Greek soldiers fired shots towards her as she attempted to join their children on the Greek side of the river.
Despite enlisting lawyers in both countries to find out what happened to his wife, Ahmed has been unable to determine her whereabouts or fate.
Muhammad Gulzari, a 43-year-old Pakistani man, was shot in the chest as he attempted to cross into Greece at the Pazarkule/Kastanies border crossing point. He was pronounced dead in a Turkish hospital on March 4.
A 22-year-old Syrian man, Muhammad al-Arab, whose killing was documented by Forensic Architecture, also died in the area.
In violation of the bodies of international human rights law, Amnesty said, Greece suppressed asylum claims even after migrants had entered Greek territory.
Citing accounts from migrants, Amnesty reported that border guards had beaten asylum seekers with truncheons, detained them at sites in the border area for certain periods ranging from hours to several days, and returned them to Turkey in boats across the Evros/Meriç river in groups while in some cases seizing their savings.
In response to Turkey’s actions, Greece reinforced its coast guard to prevent people from arriving at the islands and suspended all new asylum applications across the country for a month.
The order ceased to have effects on April 2; however, asylum seekers still cannot demand protection as the Greek Asylum Service operations have been suspended since March 13 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Greece must now quickly change course and allow all new arrivals to access asylum procedures and basic services. They must move people from detention facilities and unsanitary camps to safe and adequate accommodation. The rapid spread of COVID-19 has only made that more urgent,” said Massimo Moratti.
“European countries should effectively and meaningfully relocate asylum seekers from Greece and resettle refugees from Turkey. With the correct public health checks and quarantines in place, COV-19 need not be a barrier to providing safety to people forced to flee their homes,” Moratti said.