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Lives at risk from war, violence and now fire - deaths in Greece highlight harsh reality

Another year in which Greece suffers from the destruction of the fires that have devastated the country since July. The burned area corresponds to more than 77 thousand hectares, displacing more than 21 thousand people and causing the death of at least 25 people, of these it is believed that around 20 are migrants who crossed the irregular routes through the forest near the Greek border with Turkey.

On the 21st, 18 burnt bodies were found, embraced in a group, in the region of Evros, in northern Greece. They were identified as men and two of them as boys. It is presumed that the group had recently crossed the border and were hiding in the forest for fear of being arrested or sent back to Turkey. Crossing rivers, forests and hidden paths is the only way that people forced to flee their countries, because of war, violence or persecution by authoritarian governments and extremist groups, have to reach a place in peace and security . The fact that there are no safe and legal routes that allow people in these countries to escape to other safe places means that the only option is to try your luck on long journeys full of dangers. Whether by land or sea, these migrants who only seek protection, encounter numerous challenges. Long walks in intense heat, without access to water or food and almost forbidden to rest by traffickers; sea crossings lasting days in deteriorated vessels, without any conditions and overcrowded, where food and water run out quickly, followed by fuel and oxygen. Men, women, children, the elderly, pregnant women and the sick, all take these journeys that can be fatal, as they know that if they stay in their countries the result will not be better.

In addition to being victims of violence by their own Governments or by extremist groups, the hardship of the crossings and the intimidation of traffickers, for Amnesty International, these migrants are also victims "of the lack of access to legal and safe routes, of migration policies based on racial exclusion and deadly deterrence, including racist border violence". Governments' anti-migration policies fuel intense racist rhetoric, leading to an increase in violence, discrimination and hate crimes committed by ultra-nationalist and far-right factions.

The emergency situation of fires in Greece has led to the growth of a narrative that blames migrants and refugees for the fires. Three men were arrested after kidnapping and imprisoning a group of migrants in a van, inciting others to do the same.

This galvanizing of conspiracy theories is extremely dangerous and has become a common technique for these far-right groups. This manipulation makes the victims themselves responsible for their situation and their deaths, placing emphasis on the logic of the migrant as a criminal.

While migrants are blamed for repeated phenomena every year, hundreds are trapped by the fires that ravage the region. Rescue organization Alarm Phone received hundreds of calls for help from trapped people, having lost contact with various groups, without any response from the Greek authorities. The organization sets out the example of last month's Rhodes fire, where no one accused migrants of setting the fire and all tourists were promptly evacuated and saved, in stark contrast to the silence and inertia seen now.

Greece's focus on migration comes at a cost to the country and its people, with the government spending tens of millions of Euros on high-tech border surveillance, assaulting, robbing and illegally expelling thousands of asylum seekers, without any accountability, while no investment was made to prevent fires, which destroy and continue to destroy the land, homes and livelihoods of Greeks every summer.

Residents watch fire break out in the Sikorahi forest in northern Greece. 23 August 2023. AFP Photos.

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