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Lesbos opens new cemetery for refugee victims

15/02 15:51 CET

Lesbos opens new cemetery for refugee victims
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A cemetery has been opened in Lesbos for refugees and migrants who have died trying to cross from Turkey.

The overcrowded rubber and wooden boats they travel in are often unfit even for the short journey across the Aegean Sea to the Greek island.

Hundreds have drowned off the coasts of Greece since arrivals surged last summer.

Often the bodies are unidentified; whole families have perished.

The authorities in Lesbos has set aside a plot of land in a village to bury the dead after the existing cemetery ran out of space.

Local man Mustafa Dawa, who is 30 and originally from Egypt, has volunteered to wash and bury the dead.

“I can’t stop the war over there and I can’t make them cross (to Europe) legally. Since I can do nothing about that, the only thing that’s left for me to do is bury them.”

Of more than 60 graves that have been dug for the migrants, under 30 have so far been named.

Other gravestones simply state something like “unknown man” or “(unknown) boy”, giving the victim’s estimated age and the date their body was found.

Another volunteer, caretaker Alekos Karagiorgis, has carried hundreds of corpses from the island’s beaches to the morgue.

“I hope (the authorities) trace them through DNA so that these people can rest. So that their souls can finally rest in peace. So that the mother or father searching for this person can also find peace.”

The island’s coroner has photographed and taken DNA samples of more than 200 victims, keeping an archive in case relatives seek them out.

But so far only one has been identified in this manner.

Meanwhile on remote Lesbos beaches, discarded life jackets, shoes and other belongings lie strewn across the rocks – reminders of the new arrivals who continue to come, and those who don’t survive the journey.

More than half a million people fleeing Syra, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries plagued by war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa have arrived in Lesbos since last year hoping to continue to northern Europe.

The International Organization for Migration says in 2015 more than 3,700 people crossing the Mediterranean Sea are known to have drowned or gone missing – but the actual number is believed to be higher.

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