Syrian Refugees' Escape by Boat: Stories in 6 Degrees of Separation Part 3

Feb 16, 2017

Refugee camp for Syrian boy can be lonely, with concrete, tents and fences a substitute for home. The journey there can be perilous, as heard in Part 3 of Six Degrees of Separation: The Boat by WAER's Anjali Alwis
Credit Anjali Alwis/WAER News

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles traveled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

Zainab is a 12 year old Syrian girl. Her family was smuggled out of Syria when the war began. Her father had left Turkey a few months before them and is currently settled in Germany. Many of the families in the camps have fathers who had left previously for Europe, the hope was that their families would be able to join them soon after.

Anjali Alwis is a Syracuse University graduate who spent two weeks working in a refuge camp in Thessaloniki, Greece. She went on a medical mission with SAMS, the Syrian American Medical Society, and was able to interview camp residents, volunteers, and doctors while there. She put together this six-part piece which details the arduous and challenging journey that refugees have to face in their search for safety. 

Zainab and her mother and two younger siblings planned to leave Turkey to meet up with their father. He told them not to take too much with them as the journey would be long and difficult. Her mother bought 750 Turkish Liras worth of small cookies in case her two younger brothers got hungry on the way. They walked for about five hours. There was a lot of barbed wire to cross over. Zainab had seen a woman who had cut her eye while climbing through and was very scared.

When her mother was climbing down to the raft over the wire, she still had the big bag of cookies in her hand. She asked the smuggler if he could hold them while she climbed but he was so angry she brought them that he threw their only possession over the cliff. They had no food and nothing to their name. They were a big group, about 100 people.

When the raft finally came, about 70 people got on but Zainab’s mother was too scared to get on a raft that crowded. So they spent the night in the woods, trying to stay awake to watch for the Turkish police. Finally, the raft came.


Abdulazez’s journey had similar perils. He remembers sitting on a rubber boat in the middle of a dark ocean, looking up at the moon and realizing there was nothing around him.

“You are just listening to the machine, working. You are listening for it to stop because if it will stop, you will die,” said Abdulazez.

Nasreen’s journey was a little different as she was quite well off in Syria. She borrowed 1000 euros from her sister and found a smuggler that agreed to take them to Greece. They met the smuggler on the border of Turkey where he took their money and put them in a hotel for four days.

Families with young children had to navigate the journey, the walks, the boat rides, the bribes to get to the refugee camps.
Credit Anjali Alwis/WAER News

There were other people who had arrived after them who were taken on the boat earlier because they had paid more money. On the fourth day, Nasreen marched up to the smuggler and told him to either take them on the boat or return their money. He agreed to take them.

“He had promised us a speed boat and had shown us the photo of the boat we would get. When he brought our boat, it was a small boat with holes in it. We said no way. Finally, he bought a small speedboat.  It was not as nice as the one in the photo but it would do. We had bought life jackets but the smuggler gave them to other people. Fortunately, it was only a half-an-hour ride,” said Nasreen

When they arrived in Greece they discovered the borders had closed just a few days before. If the smuggler had taken them on the first day, they might have made it to Germany to rejoin her husband.