This is Mohammad’s story. In a series of blogs this week he will be talking us through his journey from Syria to Greece and the difficulties he faced along the way. You can find the first blog here.
Once I’d made the decision to leave I began to look for a people smuggler to help me on my journey to Europe. My journey started when I met the first smuggler. He charged me £1,400 and hosted me in his house for ten days before it was time to cross into Turkey.
That night, he drove me to the city of Kafr Nabl in north western Syria and he left me in an olive grove. He asked me to get out of the car and wait for him to come back with somebody who would help me to cross. I waited for him for five hours and tried calling him numerous times but his phone was turned off. I realised he was a trickster and my money was gone but I could do nothing because he had left me in my wheelchair alone in an olive grove.
As luck would have it, a blue van was passing along the road. I waved to them and they stopped. Inside the van there were two kind men who agreed to take me with them. I stayed in town for a week while my family organised for another smuggler. The smuggler offered me a small room while I got the money together but the conditions were so unbearable I only lasted a night. I wanted to get to Sarmada, a small city on the border between Syria and Turkey and the smuggler drove me there, for a price.
I arrived at Sarmada and I was absolutely lost. It was common in that city that many agents would come and ask if you wanted to go to Turkey illegally so I quickly found somewhere to stay.
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It was an old house with big rooms. Foam mattresses were on the floor of the room. You chose one and slept on it. Your roommates could be thieves, criminals, or even terrorists. Every morning I thanked God he had kept me alive. I stayed here for 45 days. Finally, I found a people smuggler who was asking for £1,800. I paid £950 and I kept the rest of the money with the hotel owner. I told him to pay them when I arrived in Turkey.
When the day came, I got into a white van. Halfway on our journey the first smuggler, who was driving, got out. He was replaced by another man who drove until the town of Harem. Close to this city there’s a river called Alasi, which formed the border between Syria and Turkey. It was here where I realised how big smuggling networks are.
The plan was to get across the river on a raft made from large, empty water bottles. Luckily, it carried myself and another young man to the other side. Once we were there, the smuggler told us to wait for a Turkish car.
We stayed more than two hours. It was almost midnight and raining. The land was muddy. We couldn’t move the wheelchair because the wheels were full of mud and I started to tremble because of the cold. At 2am we heard the sound of a car arriving. We thought that it was the Turkish car we had been waiting for, but unfortunately it was the car of a Turkish border guard.
It was a big truck with nine or 10 soldiers and their officer. The officer and two of his soldiers holding their guns got out of the truck and ordered us to grovel on the floor. I tried to speak in English but they didn’t understand me, they just spoke Turkish. The officer ordered the young man to carry me and put me in the truck. I asked them to bring my wheelchair but he refused. On the way to the barracks, the soldiers beat the young man while laughing.
The next morning, three soldiers came to see us. One of them was tall and thin with brown eyes. He looked at me and asked why I wanted to go to Turkey. I told him that I wanted to escape from the war and have a better life. The soldier looked at me angrily and began to shout: “If I see you anywhere in Turkey I will kill you!”. He kicked me twice. In this moment I felt as if I were in one of the Assad regime prisons. I thanked God that my wife and daughters were not there. I would never have wanted them to see me in such a situation and I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself if they had cried because of me.
We were sent back to Syria. I went back to the hotel in Sarmada until I found a different smuggler to take me to Turkey. The plan was to go there in a military car, a way that would cost me more money. I had to pay over £2,000 this time. I had no choice but to ask my wife to sell our house in Lattakia city.
At 7 o’clock at night, a car came and picked me up at the hotel, and over the next few days we moved around. Finally, a grey van came and took all ten of us. They used a road that was controlled by Nour Aldin Zanki, a military movement fighting in the north of Syria. We stood near a stone fence between the Syrian and Turkish lands.
After 15 minutes, a small car came. The soldiers put us inside as if we were sacks of potatoes. The windows of the car were blacked out so we couldn’t see anything outside. One of the men inside could see through a small crack and said: “There’s a military car in front of us”. This car took us to Alrayhanieh, a Turkish city situated in frontier border line. Once we arrived to Alrayhanieh, the driver asked us to pay £30 otherwise he would tell the police we had entered Turkey illegally. We paid it with pleasure because it meant we had finally made it.
You can find part three of Mohammad’s blogs here.
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