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Postmortem Injuries on Illegal Migrants' Cadavers at the Eastern Land Borders of the European Union-Greece (Open Access Short Communication)

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Over the last five years, 153 cadavers of illegal migrants have been found on the Greek side of the eastern land borders of the European Union. The most common causes of death were drowning and hypothermia. Most of the cadavers were decomposed due to the extensive duration of their remaining at the riverbed or in the remotely located sites in northern Greece. The vast majority (95 out of 153) of those cadavers bore postmortem injuries of varied severity, depending on the qualitative characteristics of the death site (such as the medium in which the body lies and ambient temperature), type of animals acting upon them and duration of their exposure to the natural environment. Post-mortem injuries constitute a particular forensic issue as for their differentiation from ante-mortem injuries, especially in illegal migrants’ death cases due to the fact that cadavers are usually in progressed putrefaction. As no documents are carried, these cases are even more complicated, as post-mortem injuries render the issue of identification even harder.
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Open Access
Short Communication
Pavlidis et al., J Forensic Res 2018, 9:4
DOI: 10.4172/2157-7145.1000429
Volume 9 • Issue 4 • 1000429
J Forensic Res, an open access journal
ISSN: 2157-7145
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ISSN: 2157-7145
Postmortem Injuries on Illegal Migrants Cadavers at the Eastern Land
Borders of the European Union-Greece
Pavlidis P1, Chatzifotiou E2, Karakasi MV1, Koutsoukis S2, Nerantzaki M1, Raikos N2 and Anestakis D2*
1Laboratory of Forensic Medicine, Medical School, Democritus University of Thrace, Greece
2Department of Autopsy Histopathology, Laboratory of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece
*Corresponding author: Anestakis Doxakis, Department of Autopsy
Histopathology, Laboratory of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Aristotle University
of Thessaloniki, Greece, Tel: 00306972697072; E-mail: anestaki@auth.gr
Received September 01, 2018; Accepted October 17, 2018; Published October
24, 2018
Citation: Pavlidis P, Chatzifotiou E, Karakasi MV, Koutsoukis S, Nerantzaki M, et
al. (2018) Postmortem Injuries on Illegal Migrants’ Cadavers at the Eastern Land
Borders of the European Union-Greece. J Forensic Res 9: 429. doi:10.4172/2157-
7145.1000429
Copyright: © 2018 Pavlos P, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under
the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted
use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and
source are credited.
Keywords: Forensic science; Post-mortem injuries; Body
putrefaction; Body identication; Drowning; Animal attack
Introduction
Among the basic questions and issues that a coroner usually faces
during performing post-mortem examination and autopsy, and whose
answer is crucial and imperative, is the distinction between ante-
and post-mortem injuries. e nature and form of these lesions vary
widely. Post-mortem injuries may occur depending on the prevalent
surrounding conditions at the death site due to passive movement
(dragging) of the cadaver on a sharp surface (such as branches due to
the river current or road pavement by a vehicle) or biting with tissue
detachment by carnivores, rodents, sh or arthropods during exposure
to the environment [1-4]. Hemorrhagic inltration and swelling of the
wound edges, macroscopically, as well as the accumulation of leukocytes
and erythrocytes, microscopically, are the indications that characterize
and distinguish ante- from post-mortem injuries. Tissue detachment
in exposed or covered body parts with rough edges is typical of injuries
caused by carnivores. Smaller sized lesions in exposed parts of the body
with so tissue detachment (mainly on the face) are indicative of post-
mortem lesions caused by rodents. Supercial injuries of varied forms,
dispersedly distributed also in exposed body parts are post-mortem
lesions typical of arthropods.
e study of the surrounding area at the cadaver detection site and
climatic conditions combined with the macroscopic and microscopic
examination of the injury features make the dierential diagnosis of
ante-mortem from post-mortem lesions feasible. ere are numerous
factors inuencing the induction of post-mortem lesions on a cadaver.
e space in which death occurs (open or closed), the environmental
conditions that prevail in the particular region (season of the year), the
composition of the soil (sandy, rich vegetation, etc.) are some of these
factors. e condition of the cadaver is also a key factor. Multiple layers
of clothing are an inhibitory factor for the induction of post-mortem
lesions in the covered areas of the body. Corpses which emerge from
river water, and thus, are already in progressed putrefaction, emit odor
Abstract
Over the last ve years, 153 cadavers of illegal migrants have been found on the Greek side of the eastern land
borders of the European Union. The most common causes of death were drowning and hypothermia. Most of the
cadavers were decomposed due to the extensive duration of their remaining at the riverbed or in the remotely located
sites in northern Greece.
The vast majority (95 out of 153) of those cadavers bore postmortem injuries of varied severity, depending on
the qualitative characteristics of the death site (such as the medium in which the body lies and ambient temperature),
type of animals acting upon them and duration of their exposure to the natural environment.
Post-mortem injuries constitute a particular forensic issue as for their differentiation from ante-mortem injuries,
especially in illegal migrants’ death cases due to the fact that cadavers are usually in progressed putrefaction. As
no documents are carried, these cases are even more complicated, as post-mortem injuries render the issue of
identication even harder.
much more intense than other cadavers and therefore animal gathering
is faster.
e land borders of Northern Greece are a common entry point for
illegal migrants. e usual crossing passage of these people is through
Evros River. During the last ve years 153 cadavers of illegal migrants
were found on the Greek side of the border. e majority of the
migrants (129 of 153) died from drowning while trying to pass through
Evros River. e rest of the cadavers were retrieved aer a long time in
rough and inaccessible locations having hypothermia as leading cause
of death [5-9]. Evros River is rich in vegetation with turbid water and
muddy riverbed. Illegal migrants who die by drowning while swimming
through Evros River are found aer a time period of weeks or months,
due to the entrapment of the body at the riverbed which is muddy
and full of tree branches due to the vegetation that exists on its banks.
e consistency and natural characteristics of the river in regard to its
riverbed and banks is a factor that aects conversely the ascendance of
the cadaver to the water surface. Despite survivors’ testimonies about
people having fallen and having drowned in the river, in numerous
occasions, fast detection and retrieval of the bodies was not feasible for
the competent authorities.
e multiple layers of clothing worn by illegal migrants are an
additional factor that contributes to the immersion and entrapment of
the bodies at the river bed. e high degree of river pollution and high
Citation: Pavlidis P, Chatzifotiou E, Karakasi MV, Koutsoukis S, Nerantzaki M, et al. (2018) Postmortem Injuries on Illegal Migrants’ Cadavers at the
Eastern Land Borders of the European Union-Greece. J Forensic Res 9: 429. doi:10.4172/2157-7145.1000429
Page 2 of 4
Volume 9 • Issue 4 • 1000429
J Forensic Res, an open access journal
ISSN: 2157-7145
concentration of organic substances in the water are precipitating factors
to the development of septic phenomena. In addition, the prolonged
stay of the cadavers underwater results into the progression of sepsis
and development of post-mortem lesions due to biting damage caused
by the river sh. e emergence of the body to the surface attracts birds
and insects, while its entrapment on the river banks makes the cadaver
prone to carnivores [5-10]. More specically, the post-mortem lesions
are observed in exposed body parts, specically, sh biting injuries in
the so tissues of the head and limbs, due to the existence of multiple
layers of clothing in the rest of the body (Figures 1 and 2). e even
further stay of the cadaver in the river results in its unclothing and in
more extensive post-mortem lesions to be caused (Figure 3).
e cadavers usually emerge to the surface aer oods or when
they are in state of advanced putrefaction, and thus - without clothing -
are released from tree brunches and dried by the river currents. As the
body is dragged and hauled along the river bottom by river currents,
lacerations and even detachment of body parts are brought about when
the cadaver is in advanced putrefaction. e emergence of the cadaver
to the surface causes additional post-mortem injuries in consequence
of being bitten by insects and birds. In these cases post-mortem lesions
of various degrees and kinds are observed depending on the portion
Figure 1: Soft tissue detachment in exposed parts of the body (post-mortem).
Figure 2: Advanced putrefaction and post-mortem lesions in various parts of
the body.
Figure 3: Detachment of a body member in a cadaver with advanced
putrefaction.
of the body that oats over the water surface. e parts of the cadaver
being immersed underwater undergo biting by river sh, while in the
body parts oating on the water surface, post-mortem injuries caused by
birds are observed (Figures 4 and 5). In cases of cadaver emergence and
entrapment at the riverbanks, post-mortem lesions are larger in size as
-besides sh- birds, insects, rodents or even carnivores act upon the body
of the deceased extracting large parts of the cadaver (Figure 6) [1].
Cadavers with hypothermia as cause of death are spotted in remote
and inaccessible locations aer a time period of days or weeks. ese
cadavers bear post-mortem lesions caused by rodents, carnivores
(wolves, dogs) or both. e post-mortem injuries are larger in size
compared to those that are observed on a cadaver when it has remained
in the water for the same period. Rodent raid onto the cadaver results
in characteristic post-mortem lesions observed in the uncovered body
parts (head, hands) (Figures 7-9) while the raid of larger animals
(wolves, dogs) causes cleavage of the clothes and partial to even full
gobbling of the deceased (Figure 10) [1].
Materials and Methods
e present study involves border-related fatalities which were
detected only within the Greek territory. All fatal incidents were
collected by the military or police authorities and were transferred
for examination to the laboratory of forensic sciences in Democritus
University of race for post-mortem forensic examination and
autopsy. e decedents’ sex, age and origin were recorded (where
possible), as well as anthropometric characteristics, anatomical
peculiarities, tattoos, personal belongings, and clothing. e estimation
of age was performed by using the Gustafson dental method of aging.
Biological material (DNA) was obtained from all cadavers in order
to assist or conrm their identication. Additional information was
provided by the relevant military-police authorities and border guard
agencies as well as eyewitnesses [11,12].
Tissue specimens obtained from the edges of injuries were examined
histologically to investigate and clarify whether their occurrence was
ante-mortem or post-mortem.
Results
is study aims to highlight the large percentage of post-mortem
injuries that have occurred on the cadavers involved in border-related
Citation: Pavlidis P, Chatzifotiou E, Karakasi MV, Koutsoukis S, Nerantzaki M, et al. (2018) Postmortem Injuries on Illegal Migrants’ Cadavers at the
Eastern Land Borders of the European Union-Greece. J Forensic Res 9: 429. doi:10.4172/2157-7145.1000429
Page 3 of 4
Volume 9 • Issue 4 • 1000429
J Forensic Res, an open access journal
ISSN: 2157-7145
Figure 4: Post-mortem gnawing by carnivores with detachment of large
portions of the body.
Figure 5: Complete globbling of the cadaver.
Figure 6: Missing-eye body.
Figure 7: Hand in decomposition.
Figure 8: Postmortem arm marks.
Figure 9: Body in decomposition missing a big part of its right side.
Citation: Pavlidis P, Chatzifotiou E, Karakasi MV, Koutsoukis S, Nerantzaki M, et al. (2018) Postmortem Injuries on Illegal Migrants’ Cadavers at the
Eastern Land Borders of the European Union-Greece. J Forensic Res 9: 429. doi:10.4172/2157-7145.1000429
Page 4 of 4
Volume 9 • Issue 4 • 1000429
J Forensic Res, an open access journal
ISSN: 2157-7145
fatalities in the land frontiers of Greece. e post-mortem lesions
observed resulted from the prolonged exposion of the cadavers to
the uid medium or the environment and were directly dependent
on the exposion duration. In the liquid medium (river water), post-
mortem injuries were primarily caused by sh, while in the terrestrial
environment they were induced by birds, rodents and carnivores.
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Fatal journeys: Tracking lives lost during migration. International organization for migration
  • T Brian
  • F Laczko
Brian T, Laczko F (2014) Fatal journeys: Tracking lives lost during migration. International organization for migration: Geneva.
Fatal journeys: Identification and tracking of dead and missing migrants. International organization for migration
  • T Brian
  • F Laczko
Brian T, Laczko F (2016) Fatal journeys: Identification and tracking of dead and missing migrants. International organization for migration: Geneva.
Lost at the border (2): Give a name to the victims
  • C Rolland
Rolland C (2014) Lost at the border (2): Give a name to the victims. Accents of Europe.
INTERPOL disaster victim identification guide
  • Interpol
Interpol (2014) INTERPOL disaster victim identification guide.