Athens, Greece, 15th August 2022 - As a group of 39 Syrian refugees remain trapped on a small islet in Evros river, where the borders of Greece and Turkey meet, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) calls for their immediate evacuation and warns that illegal pushbacks in Greece and across the EU are costing lives. 

Among those caught on the islet is a nine year old girl in critical condition, with reports that her five year old sister has already died after receiving a scorpion sting and no access to medical attention. There are also reports that the refugees had tried to reach the Greek mainland but were pushed back. However, until now, neither Greece nor Turkey has assumed responsibility for their rescue. At the same time, the European Court of Human Rights has issued two seperate rulings, ordering Greece to provide these people with food, water and medical care, and ensure they are not removed from Greek territory.  

Dimitra Kalogeropoulou, IRC Greece Director, said,

“This latest situation at the Evros border highlights the brutality of pushbacks, which we know are taking place at borders across Europe. The death of five-year-old Maria is unacceptable, and now all efforts must focus on helping her nine year old sister who remains in a critical condition, as well as the group she is with. 

“We call on the responsible authorities on either side to facilitate assistance to these people, evacuate them from this islet to safety, and ensure their fair and full access to asylum procedures and protection from non-refoulement. It is nothing short of a tragedy that one child has already died due to their failure to uphold international law and to protect refugees.”

Niamh Nic Carthaigh, IRC Director of EU Policy & Advocacy in Brussels, said,

"This situation should be unimaginable in Europe today. Caught up in a political game of gross irresponsibility, these vulnerable men, women and children can no longer be left to languish in such desperate conditions. 

“Simply put, they are being treated as pawns rather than as people - trapped, terrified and traumatised at Europe's door with devastating consequences. It's time to end such violations, committed at European borders with impunity. 

“So long as the EU continues to turn a blind eye to these human rights violations, it will increasingly undermine its own fundamental values of respect for human rights and human dignity. These are being eroded by EU and national policies which prioritise walls over welcome - deterring people from reaching Europe, rather than protecting them and upholding their right to seek asylum. "

“Pushbacks must be stopped. EU institutions must ramp up the pressure and demand the establishment of effective, independent, and transparent border monitoring mechanisms, not only in Greece, but across Europe. Without this commitment, these grave human rights violations will only become more common.

The IRC began operating in Greece in 2015, when Europe was experiencing a peak in migration. What started as an emergency response on the island of Lesvos quickly expanded to Thessaloniki and then to camps on the mainland. Currently, the IRC operates in Lesvos, Chios, Samos and Athens, providing emergency support alongside livelihoods, women’s protection and empowerment, and integration programming for recognised refugees