Friday, 6 December 2013

Man #1: The One With All The Hope

Man #1
Age: 40s

"How long ago did you leave Syria?" I asked him.
"Two months ago.  I left my wife and children there.  I think about them every single day, every morning when I wake up.  I think about how they are in danger and I must keep on going so I can save them."  His cheeks had become flushed, his eyes watery, and his hands were trembling as he spoke these words.

Taking out his phone, he showed me pictures of his wife and three children; a seven year old boy and two girls at six and eight.  Videos of them playing widened his grin and made him giggle with pride.

He surprised me with one photo: "This is my brother. Somebody killed him but I don't know why."  The picture was of a lifeless man; swollen and colourless, his face marred by bruises and grazes.  I didn't ask why he had taken that photo.  [Maybe as some sort of evidence for a future UN human rights tribunal.  No?]  He lifted his head, looked into my eyes and reminded himself out loud that any day his family could be killed, that he needs to get to northern Europe quickly so he can save his family.

When the fighting reached his home in Syria, he and his family packed the possessions they needed, took a quick video of their house as a small reminder of the place they had lived so happily together, and headed to a safer area in Damascus.  He knew that if there was any chance of saving them, he had no choice but to leave them behind and take the treacherous and illegal journey to find asylum in Europe.  He took long distance buses and walked secretly between checkpoints in order to reach the west coast of Turkey, then had to wait weeks and barter extremely high prices with smugglers before he found a space on an illegal boat heading to Greece.

The boat was too small for the sixteen people who were crammed inside.  They set off when night had come to avoid being seen by sea patrol guards.  When only half way across the sea the engine cut out and without any life jackets they knew that whatever happened next was God's decision.  They sat in the boat and waited in the dark for the entire night, seeing nothing and hearing only waves crash around them.  As if by fate, the tide had pushed them to the coast of Greece before sunrise.  Sixteen people had been successful in escaping war stricken Syria and reaching Europe.  Ten more died the day later when their boat capsized and there was no luck or fate around to save them.

For these sixteen people their journeys still haven't ended.  Greece has one of the lowest rates in Europe of acceptance for asylum seekers.  They must try to make it to northern Europe where their chances of acceptance are higher.

I'm sat here with Man #1 in Athens, only days after he first arrived in Greece.  He has put his fate, and the remainder of his money, in the hands of smugglers and fixers who have assured him he will get to Austria, his choice of country to begin a new life.  He doesn't know how he will get there yet; "I just do everything they say and..." he shrugs.
"I believe that if a man has enough will, he can do what he wants.  God is with me, but it is my will that keeps me going every day.  It's taken two months already, that's fast, but I need to keep on going fast until I get there."

Once he arrives in Austria and applies for asylum, if he is accepted (currently less than 50% chance), his wife and children will be allowed to travel to Austria legally and join him there.
"I will keep on going," he repeated, "and in the end I will save four souls."