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Sixteen people drowned attempting to cross the Evros river border between Turkey and Greece

Press Releases, 1 July 2010

Athens, 1 July The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has heard from the Police Chief in Orestiada in northern Greece that sixteen people drowned while trying to cross the Evros River on 29 June. Eleven of the bodies were recovered on the Greek side of the river, while a further five were found on the Turkish side. The majority are believed to be Somalis, including three women.

"We express our deep sorrow and our solidarity to the families of the people who perished. We regret the loss of life which once again underlines the vulnerability of people who are forced to flee and are trying to reach safety," said Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, Head of the UNHCR Office in Greece.

This is the second tragic incident in the same region in one month, with three young people drowning while trying to cross the same river in late May. The flow of irregular arrivals through the Evros River has seen a three fold increase this year compared to the same period in 2009, while the arrivals through the Eastern Aegean islands have considerably decreased. According to available statistics at least 287 people lost their lives trying to reach the EU in 2009.

"Sixteen people lost their lives because they felt they had no other option than to enter the EU through the clandestine services of smugglers," noted Tsarbopoulos. "We have every reason to believe that the majority had a legitimate need to seek international protection in the EU. This tragic incident highlights the need for states to protect people at sea and crossing rivers, regardless of their motivation for doing so."

In view of ongoing conflict and dramatic humanitarian situation in Somalia, UNHCR encourages governments to assess applications for refugee status by persons from central and southern Somalia in the broadest possible way, and to extend complementary forms of international protection, where refugee status is not granted.

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Thousands of desperate Syrian refugees seek safety in Turkey after outbreak of fresh fighting

Renewed fighting in northern Syria since June 3 has sent a further 23,135 refugees fleeing across the border into Turkey's southern Sanliurfa province. Some 70 per cent of these are women and children, according to information received by UNHCR this week.

Most of the new arrivals are Syrians escaping fighting between rival military forces in and around the key border town of Tel Abyad, which faces Akcakale across the border. They join some 1.77 million Syrian refugees already in Turkey.

However, the influx also includes so far 2,183 Iraqis from the cities of Mosul, Ramadi and Falujjah.

According to UNHCR field staff most of the refugees are exhausted and arrive carrying just a few belongings. Some have walked for days. In recent days, people have fled directly to Akcakale to escape fighting in Tel Abyad which is currently reported to be calm.

Thousands of desperate Syrian refugees seek safety in Turkey after outbreak of fresh fighting

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story

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