Child feared dead on Greek islet where refugees are stranded
A five-year-old Syrian girl has reportedly died, with her parents and dozens others awaiting rescue following alleged pushbacks.
Editor’s note, August 12, 2022: Since this article was first published on August 10, 2022, Greek authorities have issued a statement saying the islet on which the refugees are stranded is “outside Greek territory”. However, the lawyers who provided Al Jazeera with the coordinates maintain that the islet is within Greece.
Athens, Greece – A five-year-old Syrian girl, who was among a group of refugees and migrants, is understood to have died on a Greek islet on the Evros River.
Her parents have submerged the girl’s body in river water in an attempt to keep it cool, as Greek authorities appear unable to locate the group.
Those still on the islet with the girl’s remains say she died in the early hours of Tuesday after being stung by a scorpion, two days after they were stranded there.
Another girl, who is nine, remains in critical condition. She is also understood to have been stung by a scorpion.
They are part of a group of 39 asylum seekers, some of whom are trapped for a second time on this unnamed islet after repeated alleged pushbacks between Turkey and Greece.
One member of the group, 27-year-old Baida, also from Syria, has been sending frantic messages to lawyers and journalists since the reported death.
“A girl died. A child. She’s dead. I can do nothing,” she said in a WhatsApp voice note sent to a group including this reporter.
She posted photos of the girl on her back with her eyes closed, lying on a patch of grass on the islet.
In another message, she questioned why the children have not received any help.
“No one hears our voices,” she said.
“If you hear our voices please help us,” Baida said. “The other girl might die tomorrow.”
The refugees say they were forced on the islet by Turkish authorities on August 7.
The Evros land border is a frequent crossing point for those wishing to claim asylum in Europe, but many reports have documented violent Greek pushbacks in recent months, as well as incidents where people have been made to cross by Turkish authorities.
The stranded refugees and migrants wish to claim asylum in Greece.
Greek authorities have been notified of their location and activists have made emergency calls on their behalf to police, but officials say that they have not been able to locate the group.
On Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights issued an order stating that the trapped asylum seekers should not be removed from Greek territory and that they should be provided with food, water and adequate medical care.
In their messages, members of the group describe what amounts to a geopolitical ping-pong game, being pushed back and forth across the land border by Greek and Turkish authorities for weeks in the highly militarised border zone in which no lawyer, human rights organisations or journalists can legally enter.
Some were originally stranded in the same location in late July, having tried to cross the border from Turkey.
They say they survived on food scraps, nuts and muddy water from the river before being returned to Turkey by Greek authorities.
Then, they accused Turkish authorities of holding them in military barracks, and later bringing them back across to the river and ordering them – at gunpoint – to cross again into Greek territory.
Al Jazeera has contacted Greek and Turkish officials in an attempt to verify the details of these alleged incidents but had not received a response by the time of writing.
Longtime foes, NATO members Athens and Ankara are currently locked in rows on several fronts, including the refugee issue and oil and gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean.
‘We are very worried … especially for the children’
The stranded refugees’ position on Greek territory has been verified by a location one of the asylum seekers sent via WhatsApp.
The Greek Council of Refugees and HumanRights360, which are representing the group of refugees, have also informed the European Union border agency Frontex, the UN refugee agency, the Greek ombudsman and members of the European Parliament of this location in an attempt to secure their rescue.
“We are very worried about the situation of the 39 refugees and especially for the children,” Evgenia Kouniaki, a lawyer for the Greece-based HumanRights360 and Maria Papamina, coordinator of the legal unit of the Greek Council for Refugees, told Al Jazeera in a joint statement.
“The violations of human rights at the Greek-Turkish borders are a cruel reality. Deaths, pushbacks, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and people left hopeless in the islets. The death of the five-year-old girl proves how irrational and murderous this policy is.”
The Border Violence Monitoring Network, which documents pushbacks that are illegal under international law, said in a statement that Turkish and Greek authorities were “using people-on-the-move as pieces in a political game”.