The United Nations refugee agency today said it was in contact with Turkish and Greek authorities over recent reports of a group of Africans allegedly "dumped" on the border between the two countries.
Calling the news "alarming," a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it included allegations of rape, sexual abuse and even deaths by drowning as people have been forced back and forth across the river that marks the border between the two countries.
"The situation concerning this group, and their current location, remains confused," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva.
UNHCR has held meetings with the Turkish Interior and Foreign Ministries, the Gendarmerie and the Security Department, and was told that the group was no longer at the river, although their current whereabouts were still unclear, Mr. Redmond said.
A UNHCR protection team went to the Greek side of the river but did not come across any evidence of the group, Mr. Redmond said, adding that the Greek authorities have been extremely cooperative by allowing the agency into the restricted border zone.
UNHCR could confirm that during the first two weeks of July there was a sizeable round-up of foreigners in Istanbul, and possibly in Ankara. The group is said to include more than 250 Africans of various nationalities who were separated from other nationalities such as Afghans, Iranians and Iraqis, according to Mr. Redmond.
While the agency could not be certain that any members of the group were refugees, there was the possibility that some may be bona fide refugees even if they had not lodged any previous asylum claims in Turkey.