Hidden dangers at the Greece-Turkey land border

You can use this article to learn more about the dangers of crossing the land border from Turkey into Greece, including:

  • Drowning
  • Hypothermia
  • Railway accidents
  • Car accidents

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At the University Hospital of Alexandroupoli, Associate Professor of Forensic Medicine Pavlos Pavlidis has the sad privilege of examining and identifying the bodies that wash up on the banks of the Evros River, which forms a natural border between Greece and Turkey.

"Since 2000, more than 350 bodies have been recovered along the Evros River," he told Refugee.Info. "Moreover, we estimate that over the past 18 years there have been more than 1,500 bodies that have never been found."

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Through detailed forensic analysis and DNA tests, Dr. Pavlidis managed to identify and link 103 of the recovered bodies to a living family. The rest remain unidentified.

There are crossings where it can take less than 20 minutes to paddle across the Evros River and reach Greece's riverside from Turkey. Smugglers usually advertise this proximity, intentionally covering the fact that there are many hidden dangers along the way.

Dr. Pavlides explained to Refugee.Info that the major cause of death, as observed through his forensic examinations, is drowning. Second on the list comes hypothermia and a recently added risk is railway accidents.

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Drowning

The river crossing in Evros may be short, but people who are afraid of the water and unfamiliar surroundings can easily panic and fall off the boat. The rubber boats refugees use cannot protect them from a fast current or a flood, which are pretty common, especially during winter months.

Underwater logging — the process of logging trees from underwater forests — and excessive mud in the Evros River cause bodies to get snagged in the branches that are fixed at the bottom. Unlike the sea, the river also has no salt to push the bodies up.

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Hypothermia

The risk of hypothermia in the Evros region is high during winter and spring, when the temperature is extremely low and the air is humid. People who fail to cross the Evros River and remain stranded on its rocky islets are especially affected.

Other refugees who cross the river, usually at night, try to hide in abandoned warehouses where they fall asleep exhausted in the cold.

They do not light fires, fearing that they might be traced by the authorities. The combination of cold weather and their wet clothing can lead to hypothermia, which can cause complete failure of their heart and respiratory system and eventually death as soon as they fall asleep.

Those who die from hypothermia can maintain the last body posture and facial expression they had when they fell asleep.

Railway accidents

Since 2016, the number of railway accidents has also been on the rise in Evros, with a total of 12 known deaths. Refugees try to jump on freight trains, according to Dr. Pavlos Pavlidis, the forensic pathologist at the Alexandroupoli University Hospital.

“But they do not consider the risk as they think the trains move with the same speed as the trains in their countries of origin,” he said. “Trains in Greece move much faster than they expect and accidents are frequent. Unfortunately, bodies are shred to pieces and thus it is very hard to identify them.”

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Car accidents

During the last few months of 2018, officials recorded an increase in migrant and asylum-seeker deaths from traffic accidents in the Evros area, including women and children.

By mid-December, Dr. Pavlos Pavlidis said he had already seen dead bodies from 9 traffic accidents in 2018, up from 2 car crashes in 2017.

Most of the crashes take place on the Egnatia Odos highway. The drivers are often not familiar with Greece's driving rules, roads and landscape.

According to IRIN news, both reckless practices by human smugglers and attempts to avoid arrest and return to Turkey are possible causes.

“Migrants and smugglers – usually hoping to reach Thessaloniki or Athens before moving elsewhere in Europe – know that the chance of reaching their final destination increases the further they go into the Greek mainland,” IRIN reported.

You can also learn about violent pushbacks on the border here.

Cover Photo: Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters (photo's color edited slightly)