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.
We’d made it to Turkey, but this was only the beginning. The next step was to find the way to Greece.
To go from Turkey to Greece you have two ways: walking using the land borders from Istanbul, which because of my disability wasn’t suitable, or, the second and more common way, to go by boat from Azmir.
At this point I didn’t have any money left. I was really lucky, because my sister who lives in the Netherlands agreed to pay the journey to Greece. When I arrived to Izmir, I called the smuggler. He asked me to go to a street in Azmir called Basmania and stay there in a hotel. On the third day, he called and told me to prepare.
During our first attempt the police came and stopped us.
I returned to the house and waited to hear from the smuggler about the next attempt. While I was waiting, my nephew Ahmad called me and offered to help me on my journey. Ahmad is 34-years-old, a single man who didn’t have the opportunity to receive an education. He left the school before he was 13 years-old to work in an ironworks. At the beginning of the war in Syria, he was drafted by the regime army, but he refused to serve.
The day after, the smuggler sent me a location, which we went to and waited. A black van came and took us. After two hours, the door opened and an armed man asked us to get out of the van. It was dark and I couldn’t recognise anything. The only thing I could guess was that we were in a forest and that there were many people around us. We were told it was too late and we would have to stay there the whole night and next day.
During that wait, I talked with a Syrian man who claimed that it was his 17th attempt. I was shocked at how difficult it was but later that evening the police arrived took 13 people while the rest of us hid behind trees. The next morning we went back to Azmir.
Basmania is an old area in Azmir, full of cheap hotels for refugees. If you go to any café in Basmania and say, “I want to go to Greece”, you’ll see just how many people, including the waiters will offer to get you there. I would say that the number of smugglers in Basmania is larger than the number of people trying to cross the border.
However, I was beginning to wonder whether we’d ever make it across to Greece in one piece. This time, the smuggler told us to go to a mosque located near Basmania. He said that there would be three cars waiting to take us to where a boat would be waiting.
It was 9pm and the journey had begun. We were eight people in a car. The driver drove for three hours or more until we reached the starting point, a rocky, deserted beach. They asked us to stay there for two hours. During that time, the smugglers were teaching one of the passengers to drive the boat and giving him directions to reach the Greek island.
At 2am, we heard the sound of a boat’s engine. It was an old and wooden and smelled of fish. On this journey we were no more than 25 people from different places: Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Syria. We launched the boat with one of the smugglers leading us away from the beach. After 500m, he jumped into the water and swam back to land.
We used one of the passengers’ phone as a GPS to find the way. After three hours sailing, the sun began to rise and the man who had the phone told us that we had left Turkish waters. When he said that, we began to hug each other because the Turkish nightmare had come to an end.
After the sunrise, we saw a seagull, that meant that the land was close. Indeed, we could start to see the shore of an island. Some of the passengers included myself began to cry. At that precise time, I started to think about my two daughters and my wife and imagined them standing on the beach waving to me. My tears started to cover my face because I thought, “Yes Mohammad, you did it, you did it”.
Suddenly a huge boat appeared behind us. There was a Greek flag on its top. They ordered us to stop but we could see the land, so we decided to keep going. In fact, we didn’t know if they were Greek guards or simple fishermen. When they noticed we were refusing to stop, they tried to change our boat’s direction by making huge waves. That made our boat begin to sway. At that moment, one of the passengers held up his little baby of two years old with the hope that they would stop.
With what was possibly the worst timing in world, we ran out of gas and the boat stopped. We were in the sea and the Greek boat was getting closer. We couldn’t do anything but stay put. We were there for one or two hours, thinking that we were safe because the boat would take us to Greece.
What happened next was incredible: a Turkish boat started to come towards us. When the passengers saw the red flag, they began to scream. The women and children began to cry. I did nothing because at that point I had accepted that I would have to try again with the smugglers.
Before the Turkish boat arrived, two of passengers jumped into the water, trying to swim towards the island. One of them got exhausted and swam back to the Turkish boat. The other one, a Syrian boy of seventeen years old, refused to return back to the Turkish boat, and kept swimming. One of the Greek guards talked to him, and convinced him to get on the Greek boat. Greek guards handed the boy over the Turkish guards. Once we were all on the Turkish boat, the guards took us back.
We were devastated.
Once again, we’d failed to get across to Greece.
You can find part four of Mohammad’s blogs here.
You can donate to Mohammad’s JustGiving page below: