Rights group asks for restraint

Rights group Amnesty International announced on Tuesday that it has sent a letter to Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis to instruct border patrol units to exercise restraint, after several illegal immigrants were allegedly wounded in incidents of «reckless use of firearms» by border police. The group stresses that it sent the letter ahead of the summer when traffic in illegal immigrants tends to rise. «The majority of illegal border-crossers will not be dangerous criminals, but people driven by poverty and unemployment at home to seek work elsewhere, as was the fate in the past of generations of Greek citizens,» the group notes in its letter to the prime minister. «Greece has indeed the right to control immigration, but Amnesty International would strongly urge you to ensure that law enforcement officials on border duties use firearms only when a suspected offender offers armed resistance or otherwise jeopardizes the lives of others and less extreme measures are not sufficient.» In the letter, the rights group also highlights several cases in which firearms «may have been used recklessly and unlawfully» in border areas. «On April 21, 2002, a border guard or soldier is alleged to have shot and wounded 26-year-old Sokol Mulaj as the latter was seeking to flee after being detected near the Greek border,» Amnesty International notes. «Six weeks earlier, on March 8, 2002, Ferhat Ceka, aged 67, was apprehended by soldiers as he crossed the border into Greece. He has alleged that they first beat him, and then one soldier ordered him to walk on ahead and shot him in the back. He was taken to hospital in Kastoria, where he underwent an operation for the removal of his kidney and part of his liver, before being returned to Albania for further treatment. The Greek authorities are currently investigating the incident.» In another case cited by the group in its letter to the Greek prime minister, Amnesty International alleges that a young boy, while attempting to cross illegally into Greece along with a group of men, was paralyzed after being shot by Greek border officers. «Afrim Salla, a boy aged 15, is said to be permanently paralyzed from the waist down,» the group says. «In June 2001, he and some other young men who had entered Greece illegally fled after being sighted by Greek border guards, who allegedly fired at them, shooting Afrim Salla in the spine. The incident was reportedly investigated and shelved.» In recent years Greece has beefed up border patrols along its borders with Albania and Turkey, creating a specialized border police unit with thousands of border patrol agents, in an effort to crack down on illegal immigration and drug trafficking. The decision was made following an unprecedent influx of illegal immigrants into the country, mainly through its northern borders. In 2001 alone, the Greek government counted more than 160,000 illegal immigrants in the country. Yesterday, the Anatolia news agency reported that Turkish security forces in the western province of Izmir had detained 128 would-be illegal immigrants who were planning to sneak into Greece. The group included 99 Iraqis, 17 Palestinians, three Iranians, three Egyptians, five Afghans and a Turk. Greece serves both as a transit and as a destination country to thousands of illegal immigrants who are fleeing from famine, war or persecution, and who are seeking a decent meal and a job abroad.