Some of the Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country have crossed Turkey aiming for Greece, in order to claim asylum in the European Union. But to get there they have to take to boats – and there have been persistent reports of Greek officials pushing them back into Turkish waters, sometimes with fatal results.
“Everything we would do for our families and our fathers, we do the same thing for these people. We bury them in the Islamic way,” says Ekrem Serif-Oamadoglou, as he points to 400 freshly dug graves clustered on the remote hillside.
The cemetery is just outside Sidiro, a Muslim village on the Greek side of the Evros river, close to where it forms a fast-flowing, kilometre-wide barrier between Greece and Turkey.
The 400 dead are all people who have drowned as they attempted to cross the river and slip illegally into Europe. It is only here, at the end, that they find friends in Greece, the members of the local Muslim community who bury them.
“They came from places all over the world, but we regard them as brothers,” says Serif-Oamadoglou, the local imam’s son. “They came here for a better life, but unfortunately they were unlucky.”
They told me that their boats had been capsized and pushed back by a Greek boat – they say it was the Greek coastguard”
Syrian in Athens
A large portion of those currently seeking that better life are Syrians fleeing the violence that has riven their homeland.
For two years now TV news crews have filmed lines of mainly women and children making their undignified exit along the dusty roads that lead from Syria into Turkey.
On foot, carrying plastic bags filled with clothes and household items grabbed at the last minute, they are now crossing at the rate of 7,000 a day, according to the UN.
Some stop in the refugee camps which dot the borderlands or try their luck in towns like Gaziantep, 100 km (62 miles) into Turkey and now home to 57,000 Syrians. But those with money move on to Istanbul, the ancient crossroads between East and West and gateway to Europe.
From there migrants until recently travelled to Edirne, a city which sits right on the Evros river. Under cover of darkness, smugglers put them into rubber boats and pushed them off into the dangerous currents.