Syrian asylum seekers stranded on Greek islet for weeks without water or food
One child and three men have died so far after the group was illegally pushed back after trying to cross the river between Turkey and Greece
A group of more than 40 Syrian asylum seekers has been stranded on an islet in Greece’s Evros river at the border with Turkey for almost two weeks, with no access to food, water, or medical care.
The group told rights groups they entered Greece from Turkey and were illegally pushed back onto the islet by Greek authorities. During the pushback, three men died, one from a severe beating and two from drowning in the river after Greek authorities pushed the group back onto the islet, according to local media Efsyn.
On Tuesday, the group messaged an NGO and informed them that a five-year-old girl who was bitten by a scorpion also died. Her nine-year-old sister was also bitten and is in urgent need of medical care.
Currently, there is one pregnant woman, seven minors, and an elderly diabetic woman in the group.
All 40 were beaten and pushed back and forth at the border by the Greek and Turkish police. After being pushed back to Turkey the first time, a second group joined the first group.
The right to request asylum is protected by international law and “pushbacks” are considered illegal and prohibited according to the same legal framework.
The island is located on Greek territory close to the Turkish border. The Evros border area is highly militarised and aid organisations and NGOs cannot access it.
On 20 July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled positively on interim measures for the group, following a joint application by the Greek Council for Refugees and HumanRights360.
The interim measures legally bind the Greek government to provide the group with the right to temporarily remain on Greek territory and receive assistance such as food, water, and medical care.
A representative for İHH İnsani Yardım Vakfı, a local Turkish NGO, told Middle East Eye that they attempted to deliver aid to the islet, but they could not enter Greek territory.
Greek authorities have claimed they are not able to find the group and have delayed any rescue operation. The two NGOs also filed a motion on 26 July with the Athens Prosecutor’s Office since authorities have not made any moves following the ECHR decision.
MEE has requested comment from both Greek and Turkish authorities but had not received a reply by the time of publication.
Selim Vatandaş from International Refugee Rights Association told MEE that they have reached both the Greek and Turkish authorities who claimed they have not been able to find the group on the island.
But Greek local citizens have said they heard screams for help from the islet and Greek police seem to be heard identifying themselves to the group on the islet.
“At first, we were 50 people, but the Greek police beat us and took us back to Turkey. The Turks booked 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,” said one of the people stranded on the islet according to Alarm Phone.
According to UNHCR Greece, 33 people in the first group are now back on the islet together with an additional group. An estimated 40 to 70 people might have been on the island in Evros since 5 August.
“UNHCR is very concerned for the well-being of these people and is in regular contact with the NGOs representing the case,” Louise Donovan from UNHCR Greece told MEE.
The issue of stranding groups on islets in Evros is systematic and dates back to 2019, according to a Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) report published on 1 July.
BVMN documented three cases in which the stranded group sent distress signals to NGOs like Greek Council for Refugees, Human Rights360, and Alarm Phone.
Like in the most recent case, rights groups have filed applications for interim measures with the ECHR, which legally binds Greek authorities to allow temporary access to the people on Greek land and receive aid.
According to the rights groups, despite applications for interim measures being accepted by ECHR, Greek authorities have pushed back the groups to Turkey after leaving them stranded on the islets without water, food, or medical care.
Since March 2022, the ECHR has granted interim measures in 14 similar cases in Evros, but the Greek authorities have only rescued four groups. The rest were pushed back to Turkey.
Source: Middle East Eye
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