I felt like a sufferer of the world, someone that nobody cared about
I had by no means been on a ship earlier than.
After I was 12, I used to be on vacation with my cousins, and certainly one of them pushed me right into a swimming pool. I’ve been petrified of water ever since. My hometown, Raqqa, in Syria, didn’t have many swimming swimming pools, and it’s fairly uncommon for kids to learn to swim. Typically we might go to the lake at Ja’aber citadel close to Raqqa with my household on weekends or to Lattakia on the coast for holidays, however I might by no means attempt to swim. I all the time stayed close to the shore.
I had made the choice to attempt to go away Syria however didn’t have a lot of a plan of the place to go or tips on how to get there. My father wasn’t eager, however in the long run so many individuals we knew had left that we one way or the other received used to the concept. I had considered going to the UK as a result of I may converse English properly and knew one thing of the nation, but it surely appeared so distant. Most of my data got here from different Syrians who had been additionally planning to go away for Europe. They knew tips on how to put together for the ocean crossing and mentioned that you might name the coast guard to return and choose you up.
The individuals who actually knew tips on how to get to Europe had been the boys who began working as smugglers. They had been mentioned to know all one of the best routes to get throughout the Syrian border to Turkey, throughout Turkey to the coast, after which on to Greece or Italy by boat. I used to be advised that if you happen to paid these smugglers, they may get you all the best way there. I knew it concerned crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
Should you’ve by no means needed to discover a folks smuggler, you would possibly suppose they’re fairly exhausting to seek out. I assumed so. However when you begin asking, you’d be shocked what number of there are. Speaking about leaving and tips on how to do it had turn out to be a standard matter in Syria, particularly in border cities like Kobane. I heard a man in a bakery store in Kobane speaking a couple of lady who had left, so I requested him if he knew somebody that would get me over the border. He gave me the identify of Mohammed Khoja.
The Turkish border was a half-hour stroll from Kobane. Buddies advised me that previously two or three years, Turkey had constructed very excessive fences with barbed wire to maintain Syrians out and had troopers, with weapons, patrolling the border.
After I first referred to as Mohammed, he mentioned he would pay one border guard in order that I may cross safely. I had no means of figuring out if he was telling the reality, if he actually would pay the border guard. However I had already determined to place my soul in his arms, and it appeared a much less painful selection than persevering with to reside with the chance of being killed at knifepoint or buried beneath rubble in Kobane. That’s what I assumed.
I keep in mind Mohammed now. He didn’t appear to be a nasty individual — actually not how I anticipated a folks smuggler to look. Like me, he was a Syrian Kurd, and he introduced his son with him when he met me, so he appeared good. Regular, one way or the other. As if taking a big sum of money from determined folks was essentially the most regular job on the planet.
He mentioned he would assist 10 folks cross into Turkey and that he charged $300 per individual to cross this slim no-man’s land.
Simply earlier than I left Kobane, I had a little bit of a fortunate break. After I went to my aunt’s home, a Norwegian journalist named Anders Hammer was there interviewing my cousin. His translator was struggling a little bit, so I jumped in as a substitute, and when he requested if I used to be planning to go away Syria, I advised him my plan. I needed to doc the entire journey to Europe on my cellphone, I mentioned.
However Anders had a greater thought — he gave me a small GoPro video digicam with about 4 hours of recording time and spent a number of days educating me tips on how to use it. Finally Anders directed and produced the entire movie, so we had been capable of doc the entire journey.
I used to be usually requested in the course of the journey why I used to be filming all the pieces. I all the time mentioned the identical factor: The true story about escaping a warfare zone must be advised by the individuals who have performed it. All of us have the best to inform our personal tales. They need to come from us.
A lot of the protection I noticed on TV or on social media misrepresented us. They referred to as refugees “migrants” — as if we had a selection, as if we had been transferring simply to attempt to make some cash or scrounge some advantages.
As a result of calling us “migrants” would make the folks watching really feel higher about not serving to us and reduce their accountability towards us as people. The media represented us as having a selection, once we actually had no selection.
So I needed to inform my very own story, to be the narrator of my very own escape. Coming to Europe was not a dream that got here true; it was about me discovering a technique to survive and reside with dignity.
It took 4 makes an attempt, over the course of a month, to get into Turkey.
Every time, I mentioned goodbye to my household with concern and unhappiness in my coronary heart. The half-hour stroll to the border appeared longer, my footsteps appeared heavier, and one thing in me needed me to cease and return to them and quit the entire thought. We had heard that Turkish border guards had been taking pictures and beating folks and had crushed an previous lady and her husband. I didn’t suppose they might harm previous folks or youngsters, however they did. There have been no guidelines on that border.
With every try, the smuggler took our group to the fence, at nighttime, and we might squeeze beneath the barbed wire and begin operating to the opposite facet. That was the one instruction we got — run to the opposite facet and somebody will likely be ready for you. We simply needed to run for our lives. (It made me consider one thing they’d do in a Tom Cruise motion film, but it surely’s not as enjoyable when it’s occurring to you in actual life.)
The primary time, we had been caught, they usually simply walked us again throughout the border to Syria. The second time, we noticed border guards and ran again. The third time, the troopers had been there with a tank, and we turned and ran again once more.
It was round February 1, 2016, after I tried for the fourth and final time. I didn’t say a giant goodbye to my household as a result of I assumed I’d most likely be coming again once more. I didn’t even hug them a lot. It was dusk after I left for the border once more, hoping to not get crushed much more than I hoped to cross.
I left residence by myself and was crossing with a small group of individuals I had not met earlier than that included a mom and her youngsters and another younger folks. All of us made it throughout the border.
We headed for a gaggle of timber on an empty avenue, the place a van driver was ready for us. He took us to the closest bus station so we may select the place to go from there. That was not the case for everyone; I heard tales of some individuals who needed to run and conceal in a cornfield till the border guards stopped chasing them, so to have a automobile ready for us appeared virtually a luxurious. And that was as a result of we had paid Mohammed, the smuggler.
So the worst, I assumed, was over. The one factor I used to be worrying about now was the sea.
I caught a bus to town of Urfa, the place I used to be reunited with my 80-year-old grandmother, Farida. I stayed along with her for a number of weeks. She had been in Urfa since June 25, 2015, simply after ISIS had advised all Kurds to go away town of Raqqa. She had left with my uncle and my little sister Sara, who had lived along with her since my mom died in 2004. My greatest good friend Yakeen was additionally in Urfa; our moms had been good pals, and we grew up collectively. She’d been there since she escaped Syria in 2014.
I waited for my father to ship me some cash after which met up with one other previous good friend referred to as Ayman. He had his personal horror story. Ayman had been an activist within the Syrian revolution and needed to drop out of college after being detained and tortured by the al-Assad regime. Then he needed to escape Raqqa after getting threats from ISIS, and although he didn’t need to go away, he had no selection. Virtually each different activist within the metropolis had been kidnapped, killed, or already escaped.
Ayman and I made a decision to journey collectively and deliberate to take the 12-hour bus journey to the coastal metropolis of Izmir, the place lots of the smugglers’ boats left for the Greek islands.
The smugglers’ community is sort of a spider’s net, all related to one another. Mohammed had given me the identify of a Turkish man who does the ocean smuggling. And people guys are the worst. The Syrian ones don’t kill you — they don’t care if you happen to get shot by the border guard, however they wouldn’t kill you themselves. However the Turkish ones, if you happen to refuse to do as they are saying, you’ll get shot.
It was March 2, 2016, once we arrived in Izmir, on the western coast of Turkey, and we had been met by somebody calling himself Orhan. He was brief, in his mid-forties, and wearing a sensible go well with with gelled-back hair. He appeared fairly well mannered and mentioned he’d get his males to drive us to the coast and set up a rubber dinghy for the journey to Greece.
One among Orhan’s males drove a giant group of us to the coast behind a big white cargo van. We had been advised to satisfy the driving force at 9 p.m., however we waited there for hours and didn’t go away till three a.m. There have been virtually 60 of us stuffed within the again for 2 hours, with the dinghy and the motor, and just one small window. We may hardly breathe. I don’t know precisely the place they took us, but it surely was someplace close to Izmir, on a rocky seashore with numerous timber.
After we arrived on the shore at 5 a.m., we had been met by six scary-looking guys who appeared like mafia. I knew the smugglers on the shore could be the scary ones, they usually had been — all very massive, like bodybuilders, and every carrying a gun on their belt. They did that intentionally—they wore their weapons like a risk. Some had been shirtless and a few wore vests, although it was winter and chilly within the early morning air.
Ayman and I every handed over $800 in money to one of many males. I received the cash from promoting my mom’s jewellery. She had given me a necklace and bracelet simply earlier than she died, and although I mentioned I’d by no means put on them, she advised me I ought to hold them in case I wanted the cash sometime. So I bought them, and a bracelet and earrings she gave my sisters, to pay the smugglers.
The boys began shouting orders at everybody. They advised us solely to take small, vital issues with us, like backpacks and life jackets, and made us go away all the pieces else on the seashore. I had a life buoy I needed to go away behind, however once they weren’t wanting I reached again and picked it up once more.
It was 6 a.m. now, overcast and really chilly. There have been two boats leaving that evening, together with ours, which might be all Syrian Kurds. The boys mentioned we would go away within the dinghy at 7 a.m. and advised us to place lifejackets on. They requested among the males who had been with us to assist them put together the boats. The remainder of us waited.
When 7 a.m. got here and it was time to go away for the ocean, I started to have a panic assault. I may barely converse for concern. Ayman knew what I used to be feeling and tried to reassure me that it could be wonderful. The ocean is calm right this moment, he mentioned. We’ll make it.
We began boarding the boat. It was constructed to hold 15 folks, however 52 folks had been put into the boat, together with six babies and infants. The smuggler had advised us 25 folks could be on the boat, however we weren’t shocked that he had lied. A smuggler, to me, is a prison who advantages from different folks’s distress. The whole lot they do is for cash.
We had been on the boat for 2 hours when it started taking over water and began to sink. It’s not possible to explain simply how a lot panic you’re feeling when throughout you there may be solely water and the one factor you may hear is youngsters crying. The moms had been attempting to calm their youngsters, however there was solely terror.
If we die right here, nobody will care, I assumed. We’ll simply be extra numbers added to the 1000’s of refugees who died right here earlier than us. No names, no faces. Simply numbers.
The hours on that boat felt like an eternity. I felt frozen, not with chilly, however with concern. I couldn’t transfer, or breathe, or speak — I used to be petrified of drowning, of dying.
But the argument was nonetheless racing by way of my thoughts — why did I’ve to undergo this? Why couldn’t I simply take my passport, and my issues, and take a airplane to a different nation like so many different folks on the planet?
As I sat there, frozen, so crammed towards everybody else that I couldn’t transfer my legs, I remembered how I used to suppose that there might be nothing worse than dying in an airstrike. But this did really feel worse. I felt weak, unknown, a real sufferer of the world. I felt like somebody no one cared about.
The boat stored moving into circles. The driving force had no thought the place to go. All I may hear round me was folks saying:
WE ARE GOING TO DIE.
THERE IS WATER IN THE BOAT.
THE BOAT IS SINKING.
WE ARE DROWNING.
CALL THE COAST GUARD TO COME AND RESCUE US.
This went on for an hour.
And I started to consider my lovely sisters and beautiful father, and the way they cried after I advised them I needed to go away. How I hadn’t been capable of inform them I used to be crossing within the boat right this moment, as a result of I knew that if I advised my father, he wouldn’t sleep the evening from worrying. And the way I wanted I had advised them. How I wanted I had mentioned goodbye.
As I used to be saying goodbye in my thoughts, somebody noticed a ship within the distance. It turned out to be a Greek navy ship. It was half an hour earlier than it rescued us, as a result of they needed to wait till we drifted out of Turkish waters. I felt weak with reduction and happiness when that ship lastly approached.
They pulled alongside and threw a rope to us. Slowly, they started serving to folks on board, ladies and youngsters first, backpacks in a pile within the center, ladies on one facet of the ship and males on the opposite. I used to be so grateful, however I felt like they had been solely following orders. In the event that they hadn’t been advised to save lots of us, possibly they might have left us there, within the sea.
They advised us to close down our telephones and to not transfer. I noticed a boy of about 16 nonetheless utilizing his cellphone, most likely as a result of he couldn’t perceive English or as a result of he was telling a relative that he had been rescued. Disguise your cellphone, I assumed to myself, disguise your cellphone. However one of many troopers noticed him and kicked him and threw his cellphone into the ocean. He stored kicking him till one other soldier advised him to cease. I couldn’t maintain again my tears.
We had been on the navy ship for about six hours. We weren’t certain the place we might be taken, so I requested one of many friendlier troopers the place we had been going. “Yonan,” he answered, which implies Greece in Arabic. And later that afternoon, we arrived on the island of Lesbos.