For a number of years, the bodies of unidentified migrants have lain in a small cemetery in Sidiro, a small Greek village a few miles from the Turkish border. Some of them drowned while trying to cross the Evros River, others died of hypothermia or were victims of road accidents. There are reportedly 200 bodies buried there, without names or dates.
Weeds grow out of the older graves and a few dead roses, burned by the sun, lay strewn on the ground amidst clumps of earth, most likely the remains of long distant funerals. Here, in the cemetery of anonymous migrants in Sidiro, a small Greek village, 30 kilometers from Turkey, lie the remains of about 200 migrants.
Neither the village imam nor the mayor seem to know the exact number of graves. They do not even know how many of the deceased are women or men. "There were already many people buried there, long before I arrived," explains the imam, who says he has been in charge of the place for three years, after the former mufti retired. When was the first migrant buried here? Nobody knows.
Situated on top of a hill, the cemetery is visible from the small village mosque. But access to it is complicated, there is no sign telling you what way to go. To get there, you have to have a guide and take an unmarked path. There isn't any sign at the entrance to the cemetery. It feels like this is a place that wants to remain discreet, that these unidentified dead must also stay invisible.
"Why do you want to go there?", says the mayor of the village, Panagiotis Kalakikos, contacted by phone. "It's just a cemetery, why are you asking so many questions. Wouldn't you rather deal with the living?"
Also read: Greek coroner wants to restore dignity to migrants who die in the Evros region
Buried according to Muslim rites
Each grave here is marked with a white stone. "I take care of the funeral rituals," continues the imam, who watches the graves without moving. "When a body arrives here, it is buried according to Muslim tradition."
According to the mayor of the commune, migrants identified as Christians are buried in another cemetery, but InfoMigrants is not told where. The issue of religion is disturbing. How do they know if these unidentified people are Muslim or Christian? The imam and the mayor do not answer.
At the bottom of the cemetery, three new holes have been dug. The cleric is expecting more bodies to arrive. "We dig in advance because of the state of decomposition of the bodies when they arrive. We can bury them more quickly. It is the women of the village who take care of the deceased, who help wash them, before putting them in the ground."
The cemetery is not abandoned, the imam explains. The maintenance of the place is provided by a person from a nearby town, Komotini. "He comes once a month. He makes sure that everything is in order and cleans the graves."
Few people come to pay their respects. The villagers never come up here to put flowers on the graves.
Two children are buried in Sidiro. "One of them was the victim of a road accident," the imam says simply. "No one has ever come to see him."
Read more: Evros frontier: A militarized no-man's land where 'no one can access migrants'
Dead from drowning, cold, or road accidents
The dead in this cemetery of Sidiro were all found in the Evros region. Some drowned while attempting to cross from neighboring Turkey. Others died of cold in the surrounding forests. The bodies all passed through the hospital of Alexandropoulis, the capital of the region. They were autopsied in the department of the forensic pathologist, Pavlos Pavlidis. "These are the unclaimed bodies, without identity, which lie in Sidiro," he explains.
A few graves stand out from the rest. The grave of an Afghan woman bears an inscription. She was buried in February 2021. A little further on, there is the grave of a Syrian woman. The inscription says she died in 2014. "The body was identified, the family preferred to bury it here," explains the imam without dwelling on the subject.
Read more: Evros river crossing: 'Turkey sends migrants there at night, Greece pushes them back at dawn'
Since the beginning of the year, 38 migrants have died in the Evros region, according to the balance sheet prepared by Pavlos Pavlidis. In the last 20 years, the forensic doctor says he has autopsied 500 people.
Charlotte Boitiaux, special correspondent in Greece