Saturday, 28 December 2013

Man #4: An Alternative Route

Man #4 took an alternative route to Europe than most I have met.  From Syria to Turkey and smuggled on a boat to Greece was what I had heard of time and time again.  The problem with this way is getting stuck in Greece; the strict border controls make problems for leaving to another country which hasn't an economic crisis big enough to justify refusing asylum seekers.

This alternative route took him, and thousands of others in the same position, from Syria to Lebanon and on to Egypt.  When Egypt could not provide a safe haven nor opportunity for work, the shining promise of a brighter future was once again put in the hands of greedy, money-making, careless smugglers.

Man #4 would pay a smuggler to join a boat heading north through the Mediterranean Sea to Italy.  The prices varied, he had to barter and beg; there were so many more who would pay a higher price or have better connections with more trustworthy smugglers.  After three weeks of networking, he managed to find space on a boat where the price was 3000€ per person.  The only instructions were to stay in one particular place until the boat would be ready around one week later and to leave all belongings behind.

The rushed meeting in the darkness of night then running to the shore to jump on the boat without making a noise was the most exhilarating moment of his life.  Optimism filled him and he felt higher than the clouds as adrenalin rushed through his body making his heart beat so loudly he was almost afraid the sound would alert anyone watching.  "It was the first day of my new life; a wonderful feeling."

The smuggler quickly organised the people filling the boat and everybody followed orders so efficiently it was as if they'd practiced hundreds of times before.  "There were thirty of us in there.  But the boat was barely big enough for ten.  Who can complain or question?  Whoever did would have lost their place in the boat, so everybody kept quiet.  I could see in everybody's eyes they could see the danger just as well as I could."

The boat set off and managed to leave the shore without being spotted by any coast guard patrols.
"Then we just had to sit and wait and look at nothing but each other and the endless sea around us."
After 22 hours there started to be problems with the engine.  It stopped and started and stopped and started over and over again.  The waves were getting bigger and the wind overtook the remaining warmth from their bodies.  People were getting more afraid by the lack of control the driver had.
"Suddenly the boat capsized.  I was waving my arms and legs up and down to try to swim but I didn't know how to do it properly.  I was thrown to the surface and took a big breath.  The first thing I did was take a breath instead of looking for my wife and children.  I had lost that short time to see them, to grab them.  Once I knew how to wave my legs to keep me upwards, all I could see was other people.  Not my children.  Not my wife.  I was shouting to them but I couldn't hear them.  I looked under the water for them but I couldn't see them.  I don't know what happened to the other people after that, I took no notice."

Man #4 sat alone on the upturned boat looking outwards and beyond the horizon for hours.  He reached land eventually.  The land was Italian land.  He absent mindlessly followed the steps he had so carefully planned before his departure from Egypt and within a few days made it to the Netherlands where he claimed asylum.  This was the country his and his families future was supposed to begin.  He had made it. But he was now left with no purpose or family.

This is the story of the best friend of my good Syrian friend who I met in Greece.  It's an incredibly tragic one but also one that has been repeated more times than anyone cares to count.  With most of the European countries accepting any asylum seeker from Syria who arrives on it's land, the rightful support needed is there for these innocent people who do not deserve for their lives to be ruined by war.  I write Man #4's story, among the others, to highlight the struggle they are forced to go through alone and by dangerous and illegal means.  This kind of smuggling can be irradiated if legal and safe ways of arrival to Europe are provided.  The war in Syria is impossible to stop, but the provision of safety for these people is in European hands.

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