NEW YORK – While Greece has denied Turkish claims that refugees and migrants trying to cross the border were being mistreated and even killed three, The New York Times said the New Democracy government is running a black site secret center to detain and then expel them, and that one had been shot and killed.
The paper also claimed, citing forensic analysis, that the Greek Coast Guard had tried to deliberately capsize one rubber dinghy in the Aegean filled with refugees and migrants trying to cross from Turkey to reach Greek islands and fired warning shots.
The paper said Greece, which is trying to build an international alliance against Turkey for breaking terms of a 2016 swap deal with the European Union by opening borders to Greece – which responded by closing its side – is holding migrants at a secret extrajudicial location before expelling them to Turkey without due process, violating international law.
Several migrants said in interviews that they had been captured, stripped of their belongings, beaten and expelledithout being given a chance to claim asylum or speak to a lawyer, in an illegal process known as refoulement.
The Greek government, trying to deal with a rekindled refugee and migrant crisis with the country already holding more than 100,000, including some 42,000 on Greek islands near Turkey and getting little help from the EU, had ceased processing asylum applications for newly-arrived refugees and migrants and said any who managed to cross after March 1 would be sent back to their countries of origin.
Turkey claimed at least three migrants had been shot and killed while trying to get into Greece, assertions that the New Democracy government said were “fake news” and part of a disinformation campaign to discredit Greece as tensions have soared.
Government spokesman Stelios Petsas, did not comment on the existence of the site, but said Greece detained and expelled migrants in accordance with the law and a March 3 Presidential decree which suspended asylum applications for a month and allowed immediate deportations.
The Times said it had used a combination of on-the-ground reporting and forensic analysis of satellite imagery to confirm the existence of the secret center in northeastern Greece which hadn’t been reported before.
Presented with diagrams of the site and a description of its operations, Francois Crepeau, a former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said it was the equivalent of a domestic “black site,” since detainees are kept in secret and without access to lawyers or counsel, the paper said.
Using footage supplied to several media outlets, The Times said it established the Greek Coast Guard fired shots in the direction of migrants onboard a dinghy trying to reach the island of Kos, beat them with sticks and sought to repel them by driving past them at high speed, risking tipping them into water.
Scores have drowned trying to reach Greece over the past nearly five years, including women and children, and Turkey has repeatedly accused the Greek Coast Guard, which had rescued many, of also trying to push back boats and dinghies full of refugees and migrants that Turkey let human traffickers keep sending in violation of the 2016 deal.
Forensic analysis of videos provided by witnesses also confirmed the death of at least one person — a Syrian factory worker — after he was shot on the Greek-Turkish border, the report also said.The Times said that Mohammed Yaarub, from Aleppo, who tried to cross Greece’s northern land border with Turkey, was shot dead on March 2 on the bank of the river after he and another migrant were stopped by security guards although he was holding up a white shirt.
There is no known video of the moment of impact, but several videos captured his motionless body being carried away from the Greek border and toward the river, the report also claimed, with migrants also asserting he was killed.
Using video metadata and analyzing the position of the sun, The Times confirmed that he was shot around 8:30 a.m., matching a conclusion reached by Forensic Architecture, an investigative research group.
Turkey began busing refugees and migrants to the border on Feb. 28, breaking a 2016 swap deal with the EU under which Turkey was supposed to contain millions of refugees and migrants who went there fleeing war and strife in their homelands.
They came especially from Afghanistan and Syria’s civil war, where the deaths of 33 Turkish soldiers led Erdogan to fear another influx and said he would open Turkey’s gates to the EU through Greece.
Greece said it had no option but to close the border after years of holding refugees and migrants with EU officials tweeting response but reluctant to sanction Turkey or President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who warned he would do what he did unless the deal is revised.
When Turkish officials began to bus migrants to the Greek border on Feb. 28, a Syrian Kurd named Somar al-Hussein had a seat on one of the first coaches and told the paper he crossed the Evros in a rubber dinghy filled with other migrants.
He said they were captured an hour later by Greek border guards and taken to a detention site his mobile phone showed was a few hundred yards east of the border village of Poros before the phone was confiscated.
He said his requests to claim asylum and contact United Nations officials were ignored. “To them, we are like animals,” he said of the Greek guards, claiming the detainees weren’t given food or water, taken back to the river and brought back to the Turkish side on a small speedboat by Greek police.
By cross-referencing drawings, descriptions and satellite coordinates that he provided, The Times said it was able to locate the detention center — in farmland between Poros and the treacherous river.
A former Greek official familiar with police operations, but not named, confirmed the existence of the site, which is not classified as a detention facility but is used informally during times of high migration flows, the paper said.
Three Times journalists were stopped at a roadblock near the site by uniformed police officers and masked special forces officers. The site’s existence was also later confirmed by Respond, a Sweden-based research group, the paper said.
The same day of the alleged murder of Yaarub, a Greek Coast Guard vessel violently tried to push back the dinghy full of migrants in an incident that Turkish officials captured on video, which they then distributed to the press, showing the attempt to capsize while another Petsas, the government spokesman, did not deny the incident, but said the Coast Guard did not fire live rounds.