The 63 dead people are the new macabre record of the Evros region
On New Year’s Eve, an email with the title “Urgent”, arrived in the inbox of Humanstories.gr. It was sent, by Hamza, from Morocco. “It is urgent. I am sending you this message because we are looking for the body of my brother, who probably died in Greece,” the message began and continued: “He was an illegal immigrant. The last place he was seen was on the national road between Drama and Serres. In a small wooden house, on the highest mountain of the area”. Then Hamza wrote some more details about the things that his brother had with him as well as the type of mobile phone that he was carrying. “My family is very worried and they are all very sad. They want to know what happened,” the message ended. Attached to the email, was the photograph of the 25-year-old brother who had gone missing as well as the coordinates of the last location where he had been seen. This is one of several messages that arrive in our mail every year. Dozens of similar messages arrive every month to the accounts of Alexandroupolis forensic doctor, Pavlos Pavlidis, as well as in organizations and the International Red Cross.
We also turn to the Alexandroupolis coroner when we receive similar messages. “This year was the worst year,” Pavlos Pavlidis said on the phone when we contacted him and continued: “We had a record number of deaths in the Evros area. The previous record was 54 deaths in 2010 and this year we reached 63.” One of the 63 who lost their lives trying to reach Thessaloniki was Hamza’s brother. He was found frozen inside a wooden hut, having lost his life from hypothermia. Hamza and his family are among the lucky-unlucky people in the cases of people who every year are trying to cross the river Evros unseen. And from there, either on foot or in traffickers’ cars to Thessaloniki and from there to Idomeni and then in some of the Northern European countries. They are lucky because they found out where their loved one is, even if he has lost his life. “It’s an unpleasant answer to the question of where their loved ones are. But at least there is an answer. They know what has happened” says Pavlos Pavlidis. Hundreds, maybe even thousands more people, from Middle Eastern countries, are not so “lucky”. They have never found out, what happened to their loved ones, who were lost trying to cross unseen in Europe, in search of a better future. “We will never know the real number of people who have been lost in the river Evros. The river keeps the bodies at its bottom” repeats Pavlos Pavlidis every time I meet him. His answer is the same regarding the numbers of the dead given by Turkey. “We have no evidence from there. They don’t say anything.”
In addition to the gruesome record of 2022, there is one more new element regarding the deaths of these people. “Until now, the first cause of death was drowning and the second was hypothermia,” says Pavlos Pavlidis and continues: “This year hypothermia was the third cause of death. The second cause of death was car accidents. After all, that is also the reason for the increase in victims. In a hypothermic death case, we have one or two people at a time. In car accidents, however, the dead are many more. The way they are placed like sardines inside the traffickers’ cars when an accident occurs, they don’t have much hope of surviving.”
In some accidents in the area of Evros, when I read in the police press release, they mentioned even ten people trapped inside an SUV, I always wondered how ten or twelve people could fit inside a car. My question was answered by a refugee friend, Mosen. “I’ll show you,” he said. He took me to the side of an SUV and continued, “Think of this car, without the seats. This is how people are piled into traffickers’ cars. My sister and I came from Evros to Thessaloniki in 2016 in the trunk of a car, with the exhaust emitting exhaust gas where the traffickers had placed us. All the way, I was wondering if we would make it there alive, or if we would be poisoned by the fumes. In the end, this was the least that happened to us. The traffickers had locked us in a house and demanded more money from our family. The Greek police caught them and freed us.”
Life continues as usual in the Evros region and all the way through the mountains to Thessaloniki. Next to the people who live along this route, every night some other people try to slip in unseen. Several of them manage to reach their destination. But some of them, cannot make it, and their ghosts throughout this difficult journey are becoming more and more, year by year…