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.