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Greek Police Save 64 Migrants Marooned on Evros River Islet

EVROS – After being pushed by the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) police said they rescued 64 asylum-seekers, including 10 children, left on an Evros River islet by human smugglers, a perilous crossing where scores have drowned.

Turkey lets the smuggling rings operate during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union and is supposed to contain some 4.4 million refugees and migrants who fled war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, primarily Syria and Afghanistan.

Police said the migrants were located after Greek authorities were tipped off to their presence, but that the group initially refused to accompany rescue teams into boats to take them to the Greek side of the Evros River.

A second attempt during daylight on April 21 was successful. Police said they safely evacuated all 46 men, eight women and 10 children, who said they were Syrian nationals seeking asylum in the European Union.

They said they had been left on the island, near the northeastern Greek town of Didymoteicho, by smugglers who took them there by boat from the Turkish side, usually charging up to 2,000 euros ($2161) per person or more.

The land border is a key crossing point for people from the Middle East, Asia and Africa fleeing war or poverty to reach the EU, which closed its borders to them, dumping the problem largely on Greece, which is holding up to 13,000 on five Aegean islands near Turkey’s coast.

On the night of April 16, a woman was killed by gunfire as a group of migrants crossed the Evros by boat to Greece. It wasn’t immediately clear who fired the fatal shot but Greek police said it came from the other side and they fired warning shots in the air in response.

The  said it had asked officials to help 46 migrants, including 10 children, stuck on an islet on the Evros River on the border with Turkey but hadn’t received a reply.

In the case of another group of 37 people, Greek authorities last week said they were unable to locate them and all contact was subsequently lost, the GCR said, said Turkey’s pro-government newspaper The Daily Sabah.

The organization said that it had alerted authorities to rescue at least 230 asylum seekers from Syria, Turkey, Afghanistan and Iraq in the Evros area this year but that in some cases there was no response.

In at least three cases, GCR said it had information that asylum seekers from Turkey and Syria had been sent back to Turkey without being given a chance to apply for protection, the paper also said.

While Turkey has allowed human traffickers to keep operating, there haven’t been any sanctions at the same time that the government blames Greece for pushing back people who weren’t allowed to be sent.

 

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

 

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