This is the story of 11 Syrian and 1 French friends. The journal from their trip, between July 15 and August 15, passing the borders, from Turkey to Syria.
(Nafar in arabic is the one without name, without right, a number in the mass, and it is how the smugglers are calling their clients, in arabic. “He is only a pocket of money”).
Part 1: Izmir. Destination: Greece.
The smugglers. (2/3)
For the first part of the journal, Basmane, İzmir (1/3) click here.
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The more common way to pass from Turkey to Greece is by boat. There are several Greek islands that are only a few kilometres away from the continent. The main destinations are Chios, Samos, Kos (those ones are less than 10 km away) and Lesbos islands. But there are also some small islands that are used as alternatives.
Two friends from the group were mainly dealing with the smuggler issue. They began to contact in priority as the ones that have been “recommended” by friends that already passed. In total, they talked in the phone with around 30 different guys and met in Izmir directly 15 of them. The smugglers always use nicknames: the Tunisian, the Palestinian Abu Ali (father of Ali), etc… They have a very hierarchic system, with a lot of different intermediates.
When we arrived to Izmir, the average price to cross was 1,000 dollars. 6 days later, it was more likely to be asked for 1,200 or 1,300 dollars. The reason of the rising of prices might be the high influx of migrants in the last weeks, or the increase of intervention from Turkish police.
To choose the smuggler, our criterias were mainly: Finding one that we could trust at least a minimum. They are obviously all lying, but some lies are really too big… We met Abu S. for example, a typical mafia gangster coming straight from the Godfather movie. According to his saying, he always sends first an empty boat to Greece that comes back and check the road; he would never let the boat leave if there is the smallest wave in the sea; and even better: another boat would be following us, with a frog man inside that could either repair our boat if we have a problem with the motor, or even transfer us to his boat if the first one get broken. Well, as we said, the smugglers are all liars but some more that others… The second criteria is the island: to take as little risk as possible, we wanted to go to an island that won’t be more than 15 km from the shore. Chios and Kos were our favourite choices. Some islands are also military islands, or without immigration offices, which would make the legal process once in Greece harder and longer. And finally the number of people that would travel with us in the boat. The size of the inflatable boats (Balem in arabic) are between 6m to 9m long (for around 1.5m large). And usually, in the bigger ones, there is between 35 and 55 persons (up to 60).
Finally, we can say that even after all the research and criteria we had, we finally got in a boat that was supposed to bring us to Chios but was actually getting to Lesbos (the further island), and we were only 33 persons in the boat, but in a small one, that was only 6.5m long.
The driver of the boat is always one of the passengers. He travels for free, but he takes more risks. If he gets caught by the police he can get until 8 years of jail.
This is the usual proceedings of the crossing:
After choosing and accepting the conditions of a smuggler, you get a meeting point and a time of departure. For the payment, there are 2 options: the more common one is to let your money to an unofficial office. You will have to pay a fee of 50 dollars per person. And if you can’t cross as planned, you will take your money back. If you pass, the smuggler gets it. Of course you can never completely trust those offices and be sure that you would get your money back, but most of the time, you have no other choice. The second option though, is to let the money with a person that you trust and who will stay with the smuggler during all the time of the crossing. This is a better option, but can still be dangerous for this trustful person, as smugglers are not really what we could call angels… Once the money issue is solved, you packed your bag as small as possible, you ripped all your things into a plastic bag and stretch film (to protect it from the water) and you got enough water and food to survive for the next hours or days, you meet with your new travel companions and get by taxi or bus to a hidden spot, in the forest, to get to the boat. There, while the smugglers that sell the trip are usually Arabic, this is the turn of Turkish smugglers to work. They can be very violent, and it’s not rare that they force people to enter in the boat with guns, if those people want to cancel at the last moment. The police also catches a lot of groups at those spots, arresting the Turkish smugglers and usually letting the rest of the group there, or arresting them only for 2 days. If it’s not the case, you will get in a very crowded boat, and go to your destination, hoping that the sea will be quiet and that the police of the sea won’t catch you and force you back to Turkey.
“11 Nafar and 1 human”
We are a group of 12 people, 12 young persons full of hope and dreams, that met in Syria or in Turkey, and decided to go together to Europe. In the group, there is a doctor, a judge, 2 architects, a lawyer, 1 painter, 1 designer, a film maker, a social worker, a cook, an actor and a first-aider. Half of the group couldn’t continue their studies because of the war. Most of them escaped to Turkey some years before the decision to try their chance and cross the sea. But staying in Turkey means accepting to stay where there is no opportunity to work legally or to study. It means accepting to wait, only wait, for the situation to change. But our youth won’t last that long. In the group there are 11 Syrians and one French. For her, with her passport, the borders are open. In this system she is a human, she has the right and the possibility to be wherever she wants to. For different reasons, but with the common will of living this experience all together, we left Istanbul and are now on our way to a country where the nafarats could be humans again. At least, this is the goal.
(Yeşil Gazete, Migrant Solidarity Kitchen)