Cite as: Tselepi, N. Bami, N. Michalaki, A. and Τ. Last, 2016, “Deaths at the Borders. The cases of Evros and the Aegean Sea. Research Notes from Greece”. In Trasformazione: rivista di storia delle idee 5(1): 50-56.
Hundreds of people have died – and still do – in Evros river and the Aegean Sea, between Greece and Turkey, in their struggle to cross the south-eastern EU border. The tragic history of these passages goes back more than 20 years, but it stayed in the margins of global news and scientific research until recently. Who these people were and what processes followed their death were the questions at the core of a study that took place in Greece, Italy, Malta, Gibraltar and Spain, collecting data about migrants who have died attempting to cross the southern external borders of the EU, as part of the Human Costs of Border Control project of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. One of the aims of the project was the creation of the Deaths at the Borders Database which is “the first collection of official, state-produced evidence on people who died while attempting to reach southern EU countries from the Balkans, the Middle East, and North and West Africa, and whose bodies were found in or brought to Europe”.
Data collection for this study provided the main stimuli for this research note, which gives an insight to border deaths and their management in Greece from 1990 to 2013. More specifically, we attempt to shed light on: firstly, the data of border deaths, as it is distributed in the different land and sea routes of Greece; secondly, the Greek law and the formal procedures that should be followed when a dead body is found and; lastly, the management of migrants’ death in Greek practice, focusing on its various divergences from the rule. Throughout, we describe many aspects of the fieldwork as it was prepared and conducted in Greek reality and, especially, how it was allowed or denied by the various stakeholders involved in border deaths procedures. Finally, some remarks and rethinkings of borders will be attempted in the last section of the paper, as they are related to deaths and their management. The research note is based on the fieldwork and data collection in the following Greek border regions: (i) the land borders with Turkey (Evros region); (ii) the North Aegean islands; (iii) the Central Aegean islands of Cyclades and Evia. In the first of these regions, the Evros river serves as a natural border between Greece and Turkey, while at the others, the border is at sea, a fact that is more apparent on a map than in physical reality. The North Aegean islands distance just a few miles from the Turkish coasts, while the Central Aegean islands distance more than 100 miles. Although the three regions have different spatial and historical relations with the border, they have all witnessed and experienced border deaths.