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Greece Fined for Death of Syrian Refugee Shot by Coastguards

Greece ordered to compensate family of Syrian refugee shot in head by coastguards.
Greece has been ordered to compensate the family of a Syrian refugee shot in the head by coastguards. Credit: Ronald Saunders from Warrington, UK. CC BY 2.0/Wikimedia Commons/Ronald Saunders

The European court of human rights has ruled that Greece violated a Syrian refugee’s right to life when coastguards opened fire on a migrant smugglers’ vessel and the Syrian was shot in the head.

The Strasbourg-based court ruled that Greece will have to pay 80,000 euros in damages to the wife and two children of Belal Tello, who was shot in the head during Greek coastguards’ twenty-round attempt to stop the boat he was onboard. Tello died in 2015, more than a year after sustaining the gunshot wound, according to the Associated Press.

The ruling, published on Tuesday, January 16th, stated that the two coastguards “had not exercised the necessary vigilance in minimizing any risk to life,” as reported by The Guardian.

Greece Established No Regulations, Leading to Refugee Being Shot

The court reportedly linked the coastguards’ actions to Greece’s failure to establish an adequate legal framework on the use of potentially lethal force during coastal monitoring operations. “The coastguards had thus used excessive force in the context of unclear regulations on the use of firearms,” The Guardian explains in reporting on the court’s ruling.

The case goes back to September 2014, when Greek coastguards commanded a motorboat close to the Aegean island of Pserimos to halt. The boat, which was carrying fourteen passengers across the strip of sea between Turkey and Greece’s Aegean islands, did not stop. Instead, it began performing dangerous maneuvers, making contact with the patrol boat on multiple occasions.

The court said the coastguard fired seven warning shots and thirteen shots at the outboard motor. This is on the basis of a report drawn up on the day of the incident, according to The Guardian.

The Associated Press reported that two Syrians on board were wounded. Tello was shot in the head, and another passenger was struck in the shoulder. According to the news agency, a Greek court attempted to convict two Turkish nationals who were found to have been in command of the motorboat. The boat was being used for migrant smuggling.

After being shot, Tello remained in a hospital in Greece for six months. He was later relocated to Sweden, where his wife and children resided.

As reported by The Guardian, an investigation by Greek authorities into the shooting included “numerous shortcomings, which had rendered the investigation inadequate.”
As such, Greece had failed to convey that the use of force had been necessary, the court said, and the ruling, according to The Guardian, described the level of force used as “clearly disproportionate.”

The paper claimed that the decision was welcomed by Refugee Support Aegean, one of the organizations which helped to file the law suit. Speaking to The Guardian, the group said the case “demonstrates yet again well-documented, systemic deficiencies in the planning and implementation of coastguard operations and in the investigation of human rights violations at sea.”

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