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Greece Rescues 91 Migrants Stranded On Evros Islet

Migrants stranded on Evros islet, June 2023
Migrants stranded on Evros islet, Greece, June 2023. Credit: Video screen capture / OpenTV

Greece rescued 91 migrants from a river islet on Sunday and transferred them to a processing center near the border with Turkey, police said Sunday.

Police said that the group included 32 men, 25 women and 34 children. The Red Cross was present at the operation. Several migrants told police they were from Syria.

The migrants had been on an islet on Evros River at least since Friday, when nongovernmental organizations emailed Greek authorities alerting them to their presence there. Part of the islet is Greek soil and part is Turkish.

By early Sunday, the migrants had moved to the Greek side, enabling the rescue operation, a statement from the prime minister’s office said.

A video, shot by the crew of Greek private network Open TV and broadcast earlier on Sunday, showed many women and children among the group, waving towards the Greek riverbank and calling for help.

It is understood that the migrants have been forwarded to the islet from Turkey by smugglers.

“In recent days, the low water level of the river Evros favored the illegal crossing of migrants, using islets that belong either on the Greek or the Turkish territory. Roughly 80 migrants on such an islet entered the Greek territory,” the announcement by Greek PM Sarmas’s press office said.

“The Greek government has contacted the Turkish government, which was sworn in yesterday, for the coordination of the border authorities and the prevention of illegal crossings,” it concluded.

Local media had reported earlier that the location of the stranded migrants was on the Turkish side of the river, across from the Greek village Marasia. Their sources suggested that the islet is two thirds Turkish and one third Greek.

“The water of the river is rising around them. An evacuation is urgently needed,” the hotline for refugees in distress at sea, Alarm Phone, posted on Twitter. The account stated that Hellenic Police and Frontex had been both informed.

The case was reminiscent of the diplomatic incident of August 2022, when a group of fourty migrants forwarded by the Turkish authorities remained stranded on an Evros islet for days, triggering a series of fake news reports which claimed a 5-year-old girl had died, allegedly as a result of negligence by Greek authorities to rescue the group.

Greek authorities had eventually evacuated that group after it moved into Greek territory.

More migrants stranded on Evros islets

On Saturday, Alert Phone informed of another group, consisting of 24 migrants, stranded on a different islet on Evros river, Nea Vryssa.

The alert comes after a separate group of 135 migrants, including 53 children, were rescued and transferred last week from the islet, as high activity is recorded along the Evros passage in recent weeks.

While migrants have continued to try and cross the Evros river, Greece has been building a border fence along the bank since 2021, in an effort to control the flow of asylum-seekers trying to reach Europe through the Greek border.

The current length of the border fence, which the Greek government estimates prevented the illegal entry of some 250,000 migrants in 2022, is 37.5km. The plan is to extend the fence to cover the entire 140 km length of Greece’s land border with Turkey.

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