Greece and the EU are facing calls to probe the death of a Syrian man at the Turkish border after a research report concluded it was “highly probable” he was shot by Greek soldiers. Mohammed al-Arab, a 22-year-old from Aleppo, was killed in March as he joined thousands of others in attempting to enter Greece after Turkey followed through on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s longstanding threat to “open the gates” to Europe.
Athens has rejected accusations of using live fire as it tried to force people back, dismissing the claims as “scandalous fake news”. Migration has remained a neuralgic issue for the EU even though Mediterranean Sea arrival numbers are a small fraction of the more than 1.25m people who applied for asylum in 2015.
Allegations of violence against migrants and pushbacks of them have emerged from the borders of countries including Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia. The European parliament is due to hold a hearing on Monday on the EU’s immigration policy, during which MEPs will quiz representatives of the European Commission and the Greek government on the deaths of al-Arab and a Pakistani man named Muhammad Gulzar. The hearing will include a presentation of the findings of a three-month researc
h initiative by Forensic Architecture, a group based at Goldsmiths, University of London. The evidence “strongly suggests” that al-Arab was shot by a group of Greek soldiers stationed close to where he was killed, according to the findings based on an analysis of mobile phone video footage and interviews with witnesses.
“It is highly probable that he was shot by Greek soldiers, and very unlikely that he was shot by Turkish soldiers,” said Stefanos Levidis, the Forensic Architecture researcher who co-ordinated the investigation. Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in an interview with the Financial Times that he would “openly dispute” any claims that Greek police or soldiers fired on asylum seekers trying to cross the land border into Greece.
“I have seen absolutely no definitive evidence regarding what happened on the border, we have always used what we consider to be measured force to protect our borders,” he said. “I have no indication whatsoever that live bullets were fired.” Asked whether Greece would agree to an investigation, he said: “Of course we did that. Again I have no evidence whatsoever.”
He gave no further details of the investigation, which has not been made public. In May, more than 100 MEPs wrote to the European Commission to probe the death of Gulzar, 43, who was shot in the chest at a different point on the Greek-Turkish border.
A review by Forensic Architecture, other research groups and media organisations also suggested Greek forces were responsible, which Athens had denied. Tineke Strik, the Dutch Green MEP who has organised the Brussels hearing, said: “If there is impunity with even these kinds of practices, the message to member states at the external borders is: ‘Do whatever you like, as long as you stop refugees and asylum seekers coming in.’
” Duygu Koksal, a lawyer who is bringing a challenge against Greece at the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of al-Arab’s family, said: “Greece should investigate this incident, identify whoever is responsible and prevent their impunity rather than dismissing the allegations as fake news.” The commission said it was in “close contact” with the Greek authorities and recognised the “complex and difficult situation at the Greek-Turkish border”, which concerned “not only Greece but Europe as a whole”.
“In their difficult tasks, it is important that the authorities act in a way that is proportionate and in line with European values,” it said. The commission added that it took allegations of pushbacks and mistreatment of asylum seekers “very seriously” and expected national authorities to investigate such cases “with a view to establish the facts and appropriately follow up on any wrong-doing”.