Grim discoveries lurk deep in Greece’s mountains

THESSALONIKI – Her identity might never be known, where she came from or where she was going. Her frozen body was found – by chance – by inhabitants of Kato Nevrokopi, a village in the foothills of Mt Falakro. The coroner’s verdict was death from hypothermia. The woman must have struggled mightily through the snowdrifts across the rugged passes on the Greek-Bulgarian border in an area where temperatures often drop to -30 Celsius (-22F). The charm hanging around her neck was not enough to protect her, nor to offer any clue as to her identity. So the unknown woman became just another statistic in the long list of illegal immigrants who regularly lose their lives on the northern borders of what they saw as their promised land. The only data are those on the illegal immigrants who make it across and are arrested, those who are torn apart in minefields on the Evros River border or those whose bodies are washed up on some Aegean island. On the slopes of Grammos, Vitsi, Kaimaktsalan, Belles and other mountain chains in Epirus and Macedonia, such tragedies are frequent but never reach the media. They stay on file with local authorities after being reported by those who did make it across, or by locals who come across human remains. One winter afternoon, two Albanian illegal immigrants arrived in the village of Kato Kleines in Florina, carrying a man’s body in a sack. They told police he was a companion who had died of the cold on the way. They had brought him to the village to bury him. Recently, a Ukrainian woman was recovering in a Thessaloniki hospital after her leg was amputated because of frostbite suffered while crossing over from Bulgaria. Two Tanzanians were left in a Komotini hospital for two years after their feet had to be amputated after their crossing of the Rhodope mountains. Eventually, townspeople took up a collection so the men could return home. A small shrine has been set up outside Asimohori in Konitsa at an altitude of 2,100 meters to mark the spot where a young Albanian girl fell to her death in a gorge. These are just some of the terrible tragedies that occur every winter in Greece’s mountainous northern border, but never make the headlines.

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