Open letter to Ylva Johansson on secret burial sites at Lesbos


An unmarked grave in a field in the island of Lesbos. Photo taken from video.

Parents, children, relatives at Moria camp are on a daily basis wondering what happened to their loved ones, where did they disappear. In fact they are buried in graves in a field, without any further information to the relatives. I request you and UNHCR to please help us approach the Greek government and convert this piece of land into a memorial where proper religious ceremonies may be conducted and treated as a cemetery! writes Human Rights lawyer Parul Sharma in an open letter to Ylva Johansson, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs.

Dear Ms. Ylva Johansson

A secret burial ground, and an attempt to make bodies of refugees of Moria camp disappear.

The brutalities at Moria refugee camp have been known to the world many years now. What is less known is how the Government of Lesbos through the municipality of Mytilene is using a privately owned agricultural field to bury bodies of deceased refugees without informing the next of kin and families. The dead body is taken by the Mytilene Police and then transported to the field and buried there without any religious ceremony or indication of the name of the person or date of death.

The field is full of unidentified buried bodies, with small wood pieces indicating that a human being is having its final rest. A recent burial shows that a child has been buried. The traces of this recent burial will soon be removed as the field is growing uncontrolled and covering all signs of the secret burials in the village of Kato Tritos (Gera).

Parents, children, relatives at Moria camp are on a daily basis wondering what happened to their loved ones, where did they disappear. The police claim they have no records of any such burials nor does the hospitals or police have any personal effects of the deceased. The UNHCR office in Lesbos claims the responsibility falls under the Municipality of Mytilene and refuses to comment on the desperate and not so loud plea of NGOs and families. Some burials took place after the Moria fires in 2020 and the field looks like any Greek agricultural field now. A young daughter found her mother’s grave in these fields a couple of weeks ago and that too by accident, her mother passed away two months ago (June 2021). Before the private owner of this land turns this into a land of farming, I request you and UNHCR to please help us approach the Greek government and convert this piece of land into a memorial where proper religious ceremonies may be conducted and treated as a cemetery.

In the legitimate exercise of their fundamental right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution, enshrined in article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in their search for a place to live where they may enjoy a minimum level of safety and security, and economic, social and cultural rights, thousands of children, women and men die every year in their efforts to enter Europe irregularly.

Most of these deaths are by drowning in the Mediterranean Sea and others die at land. But while international law addresses the treatment of the dead and next of kin in armed conflict, the obligations on states in respect of persons who die outside the context of an armed conflict have received less attention. But this secret field in the village of Kato Tritos is real, and the world needs to react.

I request members of your office to visit Kato Tritos as soon as possible and help us approach the Greek government to make this a memorial ground for the sake of human dignity. 

Attached you will find links explaining the site. 

In great anticipation,
and with my best regards, 

Parul Sharma
Human Rights Lawyer based in Sweden, but connected to a few NGOs at Lesbos.

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