Death accompanies you on every step
He said: “I’ll be back in five minutes.” Then he disappeared for five days and left us behind in the middle of nowhere at the Turkish-Greek border; in a forest, where we heard nothing but noises coming from wild animals. A little water and a few pieces of date were everything we had during these dreadful days. I had everything divided among the children who were under acute risk of dying from hunger, while I was paralyzed with fear.
In desperation, I decided that we should move on hoping that somebody might find us. I can not remember how long we walked until we were seized by Turkish border guards and returned to Turkey.
An old man, who I met later on the Greek-Macedonian border, told me about his escape and how a smuggler simply left him to his fate. If desperation takes hold of you, then you choose this route, even though you know that you put your life in the hands of the worst specimens of human beings; in the hands of people smugglers. Once you have completed your trade with them, the value of your life is just exactly the amount that you have paid them. And this is precisely how you will also be treated. In short: You are no longer a human being for them.
The transportation to the jetty marks the beginning of a trip, which lasts in many cases eight to twelve hours and during which about 80 people are crammed in a truck – their arms wrapped around the knees in order to save space. The truck is like a metal box with only a small opening at the top, so that at least a little air to breathe can enter. Normally, with such truck are used to transport goods, not people. Despite what you hear about these people smugglers, who are often involved to some extent in the illegal organ trade, many people take this risk. But why?
Frequently, the smugglers get you out of the truck far away from the jetty, so you have to walk for kilometers, accompanied by men with guns, their gruff faces sure to inspire even more discomfort. Then, people will be divided into groups of six at least in order to carry the boat parts, often over long distances. These then are assembled later by the shore, at a secluded location, where you have to wait then. I was lucky because I had to wait only for ten hours. Others told me that they had to wait for four days at previous, failed attempts. Meanwhile, the head of the smugglers threatens the refugees with his gun, forcing them to make no sound – even the babies. Later, he forces refugees to assemble the inflatable boats and fill them with air. Then, he picks a random person from the refugees and gives a crash course on how to steer the boat and operate the engine. 15 minutes – no longer. A long time latter, you arrived at the point of no return. Everyone has to get on the boat. We had heard from other Syrians, that the smugglers shoot anyone who refuses.
With these people smugglers, you can rely on nothing that was discussed before. Upon conclusion of the agreement, you will be assured that the boat is nine meters long and a maximum of 40 passengers will be boarding. Everyone may bring one bag or backpack. How should you describe the feeling when your whole life is reduced to the contents of a bag and you have to decide what comes along and what stays behind? You have to take what can possibly save your life.
On the shore, the prior agreement no longer counts. Then, all of a sudden, the word is: one bag per two passengers. You have to find someone with whom you can share a bag for your stuff. If you can’t find anyone, you have to leave behind even the things which can save your life. Then you’re left solely to your own devices. Or subject to the mercy of others.
Only later you will notice that the bag that you had to throw away, has created space for additional passengers, that suddenly about 80 passengers are in this small boat. Overloaded boats, no experience in navigating plus miserable engines – these are the main reasons why so many refugee boats sink. What about life-jackets? There are too few and in such bad condition that they let people go under.
My 16 year old son told me during one of our phone calls, “Mommy, I can’t wait any longer until we’re together again via the official route. I simply cannot. I’ll have to get myself smuggled.” I became really panicked at the thought. I answered: “You will not even think about it! “
Like so many who have not experienced this horror trip themselves, my son cannot imagine how it is when death is your companion on every step you take. The benefit and safety of my children is also the reason why I decided to do this without them. I did not want to put their lives also at risk in any way.
To die in Syria is very likely. However, at least you have a fighting chance on this horror trip. Therefore, you take that chance and put the most valuable thing on the line that you have: yourself, in the hope to being able to start a new life.
All this was just the beginning; as brutal as it can be. And what followed is another sad story. (Photo: Sayer)