The bodies of many unidentified migrants have lain for years in a small cemetery, just a few kilometers from the Turkish border. The migrants’ bodies were buried in the cemetery in Sidiro, a small Greek village near the Turkish frontier.
Some of these people drowned while trying to cross the Evros River at the border. Others died of hypothermia, or were victims of road accidents. Some 200 bodies are buried there — without any names or even dates of death.
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 and how many are men.
“There were already many people buried there, long before I arrived,” explains the imam. He says he has been in charge of the place for three years, after the former mufti retired.
When was the first migrant buried there? Nobody even knows that basic fact. Weeds are growing 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.
The anonymous migrants’ cemetery in Greece
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.
Each grave here is marked with a simple but respectful white stone. “I take care of the funeral rituals,” says the imam, watching 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. The cemetery is not abandoned, the imam explains. The maintenance of the place is provided by a person from nearby Komotini, a city which is full of Muslim believers.
Bodies examined in Alexandroupolis
The dead in the Sidiro cemetery were all found in the Evros region. The bodies all passed through the morgue at the hospital of Alexandropoulis, the capital of the region. They were autopsied in the department led by 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, however, including the grave of an Afghan woman, which bears an inscription. She was buried in February of 2021.
A little further on, there is the grave of a Syrian woman. The inscription on her stone says she died in 2014. “The body was identified, the family preferred to bury it here,” explains the imam.
Since the beginning of 2021, 38 migrants have died in the Evros region, according to the balance sheet prepared by Pavlidis. In the last 20 years, the forensic doctor says he has autopsied a total of 500 people.