Video Duration 03 minutes 30 seconds

Evros river: Tales of death and despair at the edge of EU

Thousand of refugees risk crossing the Evros River, on the Turkish-Greek border, with fatal consequences.

The bodies are usually discovered half naked. They have been in the Evros, the river dividing Greece from Turkey, for weeks. And the currents or the fish have taken their clothes.

Sometimes there are personal effects – a pair of glasses, a chain of beads, a bracelet – that can offer a clue to someone’s identity.

But usually they remain unidentified, stored here at a hospital morgue in the northeast Greek town of Alexandroupolis – silent witnesses to the horror of a refugee’s journey.

“It’s very difficult because we have women, we have little boys, girls, we have children,” Pavlos Pavlidis, a forensic pathologist at Alexandroupolis’ general hospital,  told Al Jazeera.

Deadly crossing


The land border between Greece and Turkey, a nearly 200km frontier mostly formed by the Evros, has seen increased traffic since the European Union and Turkey struck a deal to shut down the route into Europe via the Aegean sea.

The UN said Turkish authorities at the land border with Greece intercepted almost 20,700 people between January and September this year, compared to 7,500 reported for the same period last year.

According to the UN’s refugee agency, an estimated 4,300 people had arrived this year at the Evros Greek-Turkish land border by the end of October. More than 800 crossed using this route in October alone.

However, attempting to cross Evros can de deadly.

“It was so dangerous, so cold,” recalled Martin Jafari, an Afghan refugee who said that he lost three friends while attempting to cross the border. 

“They were three of my best friends,” he told Al Jazeera. “We were out in the open … We didn’t have any food or clothes.”  

Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee, reporting from Alexandroupolis, said hypothermia was the cause of many deaths on the Evros. Some of the bodies have been “discovered by fishermen in the shallows”, or “in outbuildings, half eaten by wild dogs”.

Refugees are forced into the river because of a double-barbed wire fence on the border, paid for by the EU to keep refugees out, Lee said.

“They cross either in the hands of illegal smuggling gangs or by themselves,” he added.

“It’s really dangerous either way, and yet again exposes the lack of safe routes at the edges of the EU for refugees.”

Reporting by Laurence Lee on the Greek-Turkish border