Volunteers on Greek Island Transform Burial Sites into Memorial for Refugees

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In a heartfelt effort on the Greek island of Lesbos, volunteers have dedicated themselves to revitalising a burial site for refugees who tragically lost their lives attempting to reach Europe.

Situated in the village of Kato Tritos, the burial ground, initially an abandoned and overgrown plot, has undergone a remarkable transformation. Volunteers, motivated by compassion and a desire to honour the deceased, meticulously cleared the area over several months. What was once obscured by tall grass now stands as a solemn testament to those who perished on their journey.

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Gone are the unmarked mounds of earth, replaced by graves crafted from cement and adorned with white pebbles. Sohrab Shirzad, a volunteer from Afghanistan, expressed a mix of sorrow and relief, stating, "They come for a new life, for a new chance. I'm sorry... they drown in the sea." Yet, he found solace in the project's completion, acknowledging that it brings a sense of closure and dignity to the departed.

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Fabiola Velasquez, a Chile-born physical therapist and co-founder of the initiative, emphasised the importance of creating a space where the memories of those lost could be preserved. Reflecting on the profound impact of tragic deaths in a foreign land, she remarked, "It touches me how difficult it could be for a human being to die tragically in a distant land far away from your home."

Lesbos, once at the forefront of Europe's refugee crisis in 2015, witnessed an influx of thousands daily, primarily Syrians fleeing civil unrest. Despite its proximity to the Turkish coast, the perilous journey claimed the lives of many, with hundreds succumbing to the treacherous waters during overcrowded boat crossings.

Velasquez revealed that the team, comprising both volunteers and asylum-seekers residing in the island's migrant camp, identified 197 graves, with expectations of discovering more. The graves, marked with poignant inscriptions such as "Unknown infant. Girl. 3 months. No 31" and "Unknown boy, aged 7," serve as poignant reminders of the human toll of displacement and migration.

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According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nearly 3,000 individuals have perished or gone missing while attempting to reach Greece since 2015, with 799 casualties recorded in the previous year alone. Despite a significant decline in arrivals, Lesbos continues to serve as a crucial entry point into the European Union, underscoring the ongoing challenges faced by displaced populations seeking refuge and safety.

(Source: Reuters)

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