News / Europe

    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.

    There's little room left in the graveyards on this windswept island.  Aid workers on Lesbos struggle to bury the growing number of refugees' bodies pulled from the sea.  

    Of the more than a million people who have found safe haven in Europe this past year, many have come through Lesbos first. But in crossing the waters to get here, more than 4,000 others have died.

    And their bodies have to wait.

    "There are men and women, but the majority are children," says Mostafa Mahmoud, an Egyptian student living in Greece who has volunteered to help with funerals. "Nobody cares, no humanitarian organizations or Islamic groups."

    Volunteers and aid workers help refugees get to shore after they landed on the northern part of the island of Lesbos, Greece, Jan. 20, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)
    Volunteers and aid workers help refugees get to shore after they landed on the northern part of the island of Lesbos, Greece, Jan. 20, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

    Refrigerators for the dead

    Frustration has built over recent months, as bodies wash ashore, at times singly, at others by the dozens as the flimsy rubber boats bringing refugees from Turkey succumb to the Mediterranean's waves.  

    "We had, at one point, 85 dead people in both the refrigerators and the container," says Theodoros Nousias, a coroner at Mytilene General Hospital, referring to the special, refrigerated container brought in to help deal with the influx of victims.

    Newly arrived refugees walk to a reception camp at Skala Sykaminias on the northern part of the island of Lesbos, Greece, Jan. 20, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)
    Newly arrived refugees walk to a reception camp at Skala Sykaminias on the northern part of the island of Lesbos, Greece, Jan. 20, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)


    "In the big accident, on October 28, 2015, whole families vanished along with their children," Nousias adds. "So you can see, many people have not been identified."

    The coroner does what he can, swabbing the dead for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate.

    Buried in an olive grove

    Lesbos is overwhelmed with refugees, both the living and the dead. But even before the influx, the island's graveyards were nearly full, and most of them are Christian. For Muslim refugees who died en route, burial has proved yet more difficult.

    Refugees queue for tea and hot drinks after they arrive near the port on the southern part of Lesbos, Greece, Jan. 23, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)
    Refugees queue for tea and hot drinks after they arrive near the port on the southern part of Lesbos, Greece, Jan. 23, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)


    An olive grove has been cleared to provide some space.  Row upon row of freshly dug graves are marked with marble headstones.  Volunteer Mahmoud, a graduate of Al Azhar University back in Cairo, draws on his religious studies to help make sure proper rituals are observed.  But there's only so much that can be done.

    "There were many heart-breaking accidents and burials: the father is buried somewhere and the mother in a different area and the children someplace else," he recounts.  

    Unmarked graves

    It's a testament to the desperation of those coming to Europe that they are willing to take such risks.  And some who have now say they wouldn't have, had they known.

    From left, refugees' tombs display childrens' names and ages in Arabic and English, “Jalal Molla, 4 years old” and “Ala Hajo, 6 years old,” Jan. 23, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)
    From left, refugees' tombs display childrens' names and ages in Arabic and English, “Jalal Molla, 4 years old” and “Ala Hajo, 6 years old,” Jan. 23, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)


    "I advise all the Syrian refugees coming to Europe these days, they shouldn't come," says Gomaa, who arrived by boat the day before.  "The sea is high, and it's winter, and yesterday, the smugglers promised to put 40 people in each boat, but they put 70."  One woman, he says, died during the journey. The Greek coast guard came to the rescue of the rest.

    Gomaa says he left Syria for Europe because he wants treatment for a disabled daughter and education for his sons. But the passage - for him, his two wives and six children - was more challenging than he imagined.

    "What I have witnessed in the sea made my heart burn for the children," he says.  "For a young man, he can save himself.  But the young kids - two- or five-year-olds - if something happened, they can't rescue themselves."   

    Those children, lost to the sea and brought to shore, in the end are given a grave.  In the old olive grove, the names of some are carved in the headstones. 

    Others are simply marked "Unknown."

    Refugees' tombs are seen with the inscription “Anonymous” in Greek, Jan. 23, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)
    Refugees' tombs are seen with the inscription “Anonymous” in Greek, Jan. 23, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

    You May Like

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora