European court orders Greece to pay damages in fatal shooting of Syrian migrant smuggler

  • The European Court of Human Rights ruled against Greece in the shooting of a Syrian man by Greek coast guards during a pursuit of a migrant smuggling boat about a decade ago.
  • The court ordered Greece to pay about $87,000 in damages to Tello’s wife and two children.
  • Greece was found to have failed in providing an adequate legal framework for the potential lethal use of firearms during coast guard operations.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday against Greece in the shooting of a Syrian man during a coast guard’s pursuit of a migrant smuggling boat near a Greek island about a decade ago.

In a ruling, the court, based in Strasbourg, France, ordered Greece to pay about $87,000 in damages to the wife and two children of Belal Tello, who died in December 2015, more than a year after sustaining a gunshot wound to the head after Greek coast guards chased the boat he had been traveling in.

The court said Greece had failed to provide an adequate legal framework concerning the potential lethal use of firearms during coast guard operations, and had violated the right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

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Tello had been traveling in a motorboat carrying a total of 14 people that failed to stop when ordered to by a two-man Greek coast guard patrol boat as it arrived near the small eastern Aegean island of Pserimos on the morning of Sept. 22, 2014.

European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights is seen in Strasbourg, France. The court has ruled against Greece in the shooting of a Syrian man during a coast guard’s pursuit of a migrant smuggling boat near a Greek island about a decade ago. (Bjoern Goettlicher/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images)

The court said the motorboat’s captain “began dangerous maneuvers,” colliding with the coast guard patrol boat on two or three occasions and causing limited damage.

According to a report drawn up on the day of the incident and cited by the court, the coast guard fired seven warning shots and 13 shots at the outboard motor, attempting to stop it. Two Syrians on board were wounded; Tello in the head and another passenger in the shoulder. A Greek court tried and convicted two Turkish nationals found to have been in command of the motorboat used for migrant smuggling.

Tello remained in intensive care in a hospital on the nearby island of Rhodes until March 2015. He was then transported in August that year to Sweden, where his wife and children were living, for further treatment, but died in December.

The court found that the level of force used in an attempt to stop the motorboat and arrest its captain was “clearly disproportionate,” adding that the coast guard officers “had not taken the necessary measures … to verify that no other passengers were on board” when they opened fire.

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The European court also cited shortcomings in Greek authorities’ investigation of the incident,

Refugee Support Aegean, a rights organization that provides legal assistance for asylum seekers in Greece and was involved in Tello’s relatives’ lawsuit, said the case “demonstrates yet again well-documented, systemic deficiencies in the planning and implementation of coast guard operations and in the investigation of human rights violations at sea.”

The short but often perilous trip from Turkey’s coast to nearby Greek islands has been one of the main routes taken into the European Union by people fleeing poverty and conflict in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Greece rejects accusations that its coast guard systematically carries out illegal summary deportations of recently arrived asylum seekers.

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