Syria group files for international probe of Greece migrant abuse

BEIRUT (AP) — A Washington-based Syrian rights group filed a case with the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday, calling for an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity by Greece for its mistreatment of refugees.

The Syria Justice and Accountability Center (SJAC) said witness testimony and video evidence back its claims of mistreatment and abuse of refugees at Greece’s borders and inside overcrowded camps. It cites instances of security guards using tear gas to disperse refugee protests, and shabby and unhealthy conditions at the sprawling camps.

The group’s Executive Director Mohammad Al-Abdallah said this was the first legal challenge to the European Union (EU) over its treatment of refugees.

Throngs of migrants, mostly from war-torn Syria, have crammed into small dinghies on dangerous journeys over the Mediterranean Sea to escape fighting and persecution, overwhelming the European asylum system, starting in 2015.

Over one million migrants arrived, many of them Syrian refugees, entering the Greek islands via Turkey.

“If this case proceeds, it would send a clear message that yes, you have good policies in some countries, others (not) — but that you are actually governed by international law and by your refugee treaties, not by your individual member state’s decision making,” said Al-Abdallah.

Prosecutors at the ICC will review the case before deciding whether to open a full-scale investigation, which would likely take months to complete. The court receives hundreds of submissions each year from groups and individuals urging it to look into alleged crimes, but has so far mostly taken on cases referred to it by the UN Security Council and member states.

In the past, the court based in The Hague has faced criticism for looking into cases mainly in African countries, though it is currently probing cases world over.

Volunteers help migrants and refugees on a dinghy as they arrive on the shore of the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey. PHOTO: AP