Death toll of migrants rises at Europe's back door

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The Independent Online

The heavily fortified borderland between Greece and Turkey has claimed two more lives after illegal immigrants strayed into a minefield in the remote region of Evros.

The heavily fortified borderland between Greece and Turkey has claimed two more lives after illegal immigrants strayed into a minefield in the remote region of Evros.

The killings in the militarised zone on the frontier of the European Union brought to 72 the death toll in the area since Greece signed the Mine Ban Treaty in 1997. Scores more have been severely mutilated in desperate attempts to find a back door into Europe across the Evros river and through the lethal minefields to the village of Kastanies.

Three men triedto cross early yesterday morning, according to the only survivor. They had been charged €800 (£550) each by a Turkish people-smuggling gang and told to walk in a straight line, where a path had been cleared. Shortly afterwards one of the men, from Mauritania, stepped on a mine, killing himself and another man, from Tunisia. An Iraqi, also injured in the explosion, was rescued later by Greek sappers alerted by the sound of the explosion.

Athens has been repeatedly accused of dragging its feet on de-mining after taking seven years to ratify the treaty and having made little headway in clearing the explosive legacy on its northern borders. According to an international body, Landmine Monitor, Greece has only two years left to complete its treaty commitment to eradicate the explosives.

Local authorities in the north of the country were given a reminder of the threat posed by the fields of explosives after severe flooding this winter dislodged some mines, sending them downstream in the river.

The minefields are a lethal leftover from decades of tension between the regional rivals, who are now fellow members of Nato and co-operating on Ankara's attempt to win accession talks with the EU.

Since last year the army claims to have fenced off the minefields and posted phosphorescent signs in Greek and English warning of the deadly devices planted there. However, the increasingly desperate attempts by overland migrants to get into the EU has meant that many are still prepared to cross mined terrain.

Greece, with its thousands of miles of shore and remote, mountainous land borders, is a major transit point for immigrants. Tens of thousands of people cross illegally every year. It has kept minefields along the Evros river on its frontier with Turkey since the 1970s. Authorities said last year that 24,751 mines remain to be cleared. In addition, Athens admitted that it has a stockpile of 1.5 million more mines, most of which it is committed to destroying.

In addition to the Evros river, Greece has unexploded ordnance on up to nine islands in the Aegean and along its northern borders with Macedonia and Bulgaria. Much of it dates back to the civil war, which ended in 1949.

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