Turkey/Greece: confusion on dumped Africans
UNHCR is in contact with both the Turkish and Greek authorities over the recent alarming reports surrounding a group of Africans allegedly dumped on the border between the two countries. These reports have included allegations of rape, sexual abuse and even deaths by drowning as people were forced back and forward across the river that marks the border between the two countries. The situation concerning this group, and their current location, remains confused. According to some reports, about 150 of them have managed to get away from the river back into Turkey. Other reports suggest that a sizeable number are still trapped by the river, and finally some reports suggest that some of them are now on the Greek side of the river.
A UNHCR protection team is down on the Greek side of the river as I speak. They have already checked out the Ipsala crossing area, and scanned some islands in the river that have been mentioned in some reports. They are now travelling further along the river, but as of an hour ago had not come across any evidence of the group. The Greek authorities have been extremely cooperative, allowing UNHCR into the restricted border zone.
While UNHCR cannot be certain that any of the group are refugees, there is a possibility that some may be of concern as possible bona fide refugees, even if they have not previously lodged asylum claims in Turkey. The group is said to include a number of people originating from African countries that are known to have produced sizeable numbers of refugees. This means that access to the group wherever they happen to be is of prime importance. The few facts that UNHCR can confirm for certain are as follows:
During the first two weeks of July there was a sizeable round-up of foreigners in Istanbul, and possibly in Ankara. The group is said to include more than 250 Africans, of various nationalities, who were separated from other nationalities such as Afghans, Iranians and Iraqis.
After this was brought to UNHCR's attention, the authorities identified some 20 people who had already lodged asylum claims with UNHCR offices in Turkey. After verification, these people were subsequently released.
In Turkey, UNHCR has over the past couple of days held meetings with the Interior and Foreign Ministries, the Gendarmerie and the Security Department, and we have now been advised by the Turkish authorities that the group of Africans are no longer at the river, although their current whereabouts are still unclear. UNHCR has requested access to the group wherever they may happen to be.