Greece and Turkey abandon Syrian refugees trapped on island for over a week

Both countries refuse to take responsibility for around 70 people in distress, and claim the island is not their territory

THE governments of Greece and Turkey ignored calls today to launch an urgent rescue of Syrian refugees trapped for over a week on an islet in the river that separates the two countries.

About 70 people have been stuck on a small island in the Evros River since August 5, and at least three of them have already died, including a five-year-old girl after she was stung by a scorpion. Her sister was also stung, but her fate is not yet known.

Alarm Phone, an activist network that operates an emergency hotline for people at Europe’s edges, was first contacted by the group on August 6. At that time there was only around 30 of them.

“At first, we were 50 people, but the Greek police beat us and took us back to Turkey” the group told Alarm Phone that day.

“The Turks [put] us in military barracks and then threw us to one of the Greek islands for the second time, without food or water, and three people who have been with us since were killed.”

“What is our fault, my friend? Only because we are Syrians? We are rejected by everyone. Turkey deports us. And Greece beats us, deports us and throws us onto the islands. Our situation is miserable here. The situation here is tragic.”

A day later, the group were joined by others, bring the total number of people on the island to around 70.

Since then, the refugees have gained the attention of international media, Amnesty International and other human rights groups.

Last week, the European Court of Human Rights issued an interim measure (like the one that stopped the British government’s deportation flight to Rwanda in June) ordering the Greek government to launch a rescue. But none has yet been forthcoming.

On Saturday, Alarm Phone shared a message its activists received from Baida, one of the refugees on the island, saying: “The girl that got stung by a scorpion is in [a] bad condition. We are still trying to reduce her temperature with the river water and drink it, but she is afraid that the river water will harm her because it is polluted.

“I do not know what to do. [We’re] really tired of everything. Please help us in any way. I’m dying here of starvation and thirst, and I’m dying mentally and physically.”

The Greek government has claimed that the island is in Turkish territory and that it is therefore unable to help. The Turkish authorities claim the opposite.

“Historically, this is the first time that the two states have voluntarily renounced their sovereignty for border territory,” Greek human rights lawyer Alexandros Georgoulis told The Civil Fleet today.

“The victims of this cruel boarder policy are trapped and in imminent danger. Consequently, the international community needs to enforce mechanisms for protecting these people and their rights.”

Alarm Phone member Rosa told The Civil Fleet of the hypocrisy of the Greek state’s welcoming attitude to western tourists, while killing others.

“Islands, sea, sun and good food: this is the stereotypical perception that the Western world has of Greece,” she said.

“Each year, the country welcomes millions of privileged tourists and their money to ‘live their myth in Greece’. But for refugees, migrants and people on the move however, Greece is a hell on earth.

“As Greece and Turkey reposition themselves on the global chessboard since the start of the Ukraine war, the weak are paying the price as usual.

“Just like in the 1800s, the strategically-important Aegean region is turning into a field where the big powers can play their games.

“The European Union is complicit in the crimes that both its spoiled children commit on its borders. Civil society everywhere need to ask ourselves if we will continue allowing the powerful determine our lives and friendships with each other.”

In the Mediterranean, meanwhile, Alarm Phone warned today that around 10 people are in distress in Malta‘s search-and-rescue zone. As usual, the island nation is refusing to launch a rescue.

Another group of about 70 people are adrift just 34 kilometres from the Italian island of Lampedusa, Alarm Phone said this morning.

Update: August 16, 2022

Some of the Syrian refugees trapped on the islet reached the Greek shore yesterday.

A journalist from Britain’s Channel 4 News shared a short video clip from one of the refugees, who said they had reached the mainland and were with a sick child and a pregnant woman who was bleeding.

They were later picked up by the Greek authorities.

However, the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) warned today that another group has been stranded on another islet in the river for the last two days.

“There are 45 Syrians and four Kurdish Turkish people, including 16 children and one woman who is four months pregnant,” BVMN said this afternoon on social media.

Published by Ben Cowles

Is a journalist and podcaster

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