The story of M

July 15, 2011

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by Thanassis Spyratos, MSF field coordinator in Evros

The story of M

On a Sunday afternoon a Kenyan man, M, came and found me. He was very worried and upset. He was looking for his wife. He told me he had come to Greece two years ago and had been working and sending money back to his family in Kenya. But then he had had a serious car accident and had been taken to hospital.

When his wife heard about the accident, she was very worried about him, and determined to come to Greece. She could not enter the country legally, with a visa, so she decided to come via Turkey. During the journey she called M regularly to let him know where she was. But on the day that she was due to cross the border, all trace of her disappeared. Since then he had heard nothing from her.

M tried to find his wife with the help of some NGOs in Athens, but without any luck. He gave me the names that she had been using during her journey. I gave the names to our team members, but the next day they came back with no results. None of the names were on the list of those detained.

M was waiting in agony for my news. When I told him she was not being held in detention, he was very disappointed. He could not understand what could have gone wrong. Over and over again he tormented himself with what could have happened. At last I said to him: “I have got a suggestion: it is something that might be very sad, but it is still something you might have to do.” He looked at me with curiosity. “You should go and ask at the mortuary: there is a possibility she might be there...” At that, M jumped up, extremely upset. I tried to calm him down. “Passing the border can sometimes be dangerous, and anything is possible,” I told him.

The next day, M went to the central police station. They showed him photographs of dead women who had been found recently in the river. In the afternoon he came to find me. He was on the point of tears. “Maybe...”, he told me. “One of the photos looked like her, but to be sure I would need to ask my son in Nairobi to do a DNA analysis so that we can check with the data at the mortuary.” “Did they say how she died?” I asked. “No, they did not tell me,” he replied.“Maybe she drowned in the river.”

M looked completely lost and he kept repeating: “I am so sorry, I am so sorry, I should not have let her come, she should never have come.”

I asked M if he wanted to come with me to the cemetery for migrants, to see where they are buried. We went. It was a fenced field on the top of a hill. You could see the graves: they were small hills of soil piled on top of the grave, according to Muslim tradition. There were no other signs, not even a sign with a number, nothing. M was in despair. “If she is somewhere here, how will I know where I can find her?” he asked. I did not have an answer for him.

I suggested that we go and visit the Muslim priest of the nearby village, who was responsible for the burial of the migrants. When we found him, he explained to us how he performed the burials and the respect that was shown to the dead migrants. “If you have the data of the body bag from the mortuary, I can tell you exactly where she is buried. I have my own records you see,” he told us. So the identification of a dead migrant depends on the goodwill and memory of an old man and his handwritten notes.

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