Border guards from Turkey and Greece on Thursday fired on a group of 11 asylum seekers fleeing a political crackdown by the Turkish government, according to a Kurdish journalist in exile who shared footage on social media showing the group’s call for help, Turkish Minute reported on Thursday.
According to Bünyamin Tekin’s story, the asylum seekers are facing imprisonment in Turkey on trumped-up terrorism charges as part of a crackdown launched by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the aftermath of a coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
According to Meltem Oktay, who shared the footage on X, formerly known as Twitter, the 11 people include a Kurdish political activist who was previously pushed back by Greek border guards and served four years in a Turkish prison. In the footage posted by Okyay, women and men can be seen pleading for help in the Evros River, which forms the border between Greece and Turkey, saying they are being shot at from both sides of the border.
Bugün sabah saatlerinde Meriç Nehri üzerinden Yunanistan'a geçmeye çalışan gruba iki taraftan taciz ateşi açılmış. Yunanistan sınır muhafızları tarafından geri itilen grubun akıbeti belli değil. Göründüğü üzere grup bir süre Meriç Nehri’nin ortasında kalmış… pic.twitter.com/FrTTJKOTKm— Meltem Oktay (@mltmokty62drsm) September 14, 2023
“One of our friends drowned in the river, another one also drowned when we tried to save her. We are being shot at from both sides. We don’t know what to do or where to go. Please help us,” one woman can be heard saying.
İrem Nur Akın, the sister-in-law of a man and a woman in the group, spoke to Turkish Minute about the ordeal of the asylum seekers.
My brother and sister are in the video! Thanks god, I received good news that they surrendered to the Greek Police. My call to the Greek authorities; Please don't push them back because they will be thrown in jail. @primeministergr @hellenicpolice @refugees @nmitarakis @RebHarms https://t.co/M3eHpjepNU— İrem (@iremnurakin) September 14, 2023
Akın said the group crossed the border and was able to apply for asylum on the Greek side, citing information from a Greek lawyer whom she asked for help.
However, there is still no word from the group, and it is not uncommon for asylum seekers to be sent back to Turkey after surrendering to Greek police.
Videoyu çeken ve konuşan arkadaşımız Ruken Varol. Daha önce de Yunanistan’a geçmeye çalışırken geri itildi ve tutuklandı. 4 yıla yakın tutsak kaldı. Gebze Zindanında birlikte kaldık. Davası hala devam ediyor. Yunanistan Ruken ile birlikte 11 kişiyi geri verirse arkadaşlarımızın… https://t.co/CEHldU1vVC pic.twitter.com/unphxt9Ldn— Meltem Oktay (@mltmokty62drsm) September 14, 2023
“Our friend Ruken Varol recorded the video and spoke. She was previously pushed back and arrested when she tried to get to Greece. She was in prison for almost four years. We were together in Gebze Prison, and her case is still ongoing. If Greece sends back 11 people, including Ruken, our friends’ freedom will be in danger. We still have no news about their situation,” Okyay posted on X.
Following a failed coup attempt in 2016, the Turkish government initiated a massive purge of state institutions, jailing tens of thousands under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. The government has faced criticism for using vague counterterrorism laws to imprison critics and opponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), particularly alleged affiliates of the faith-based Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, and Kurdish activists.
This has resulted in thousands of people fleeing Turkey due to a widespread witch-hunt against Kurds and alleged members of the Gülen movement. As many had their passports revoked by the government, some have sought to leave the country illegally.
On Thursday disturbing videos of asylum seekers in distress prompted social media activists to rally support and call for intervention from Greek and EU authorities to prevent the asylum seekers from being forcibly returned to Turkey.
According to the latest report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), titled “Pushbacks of Turkish asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey: Violation of the principle of non-refoulement,” the pushbacks, especially of asylum seekers from Turkey, violate the principles of international and European Union law, in particular the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits returning refugees to a country where they would face persecution.