Rocco Rorandelli


Traces of identity

Objects of unidentified migrants found dead in the Evros river

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Since 1993, more than 34,000 migrants have died in their quest to reach Europe. In Greece, the Evros river takes its toll. With the recent policies put in place by the Italian government, one of the main migration routes is represented by the Evros river, a 150 km natural border between Turkey and Greece. Just in 2017, more than 7,500 crossed the Evros and this number has been surpassed already by mid-2018.

The apparently placid waters of the river are full of danger and perils for those trying to traverse them. Since 2000, 392 corpses have been recovered along the river, and 2018 holds already the all-time record, with 33 bodies found. It is estimated that more than 1,300 people have died crossing the Evros. Most people die from drowning or hypothermia, while some are hit by trains that pass along the banks. Many are killed by landmines.

Traces of identity

When found, bodies are sent to the Alexandroupoli General Hospital. Here, forensic doctor Pavlos Pavlidis and his team try to gather all possible information to try identify the victims, who seldom carry documents such as passports of IDs. Most bodies are found naked and unrecognisable do to prolonged time spent in the rapid flow of the river. All items recovered by the bodies are used for the identification. So far, about 100 bodies have been identified. The others are kept in the hospital morgue for up to four months, then they are buried if no one recalls them. According to Pavlos Pavlidis, the Evros holds the largest number of unidentified migrants in Greece.

The still-life photography approach helps me to present these items as everyday objects, similar to the ones that many of use and have in our pockets or bags. However, the signs of the passage of time, the presence of marks of prolonged weathering, force us to reconsider them as the only witnesses of a tragedy.

All the objects photographed in this essay belong to bodies whose identity is still unknown.