Dec 21st, 2018, 01:42 PM

The Raging Sea

By Anabel Bachour
Image Credit: Shutterstock/519491944
Meet the man who passed across 10 countries in hopes of having a better life.

MB is a Syrian refugee who survived a treacherous  journey, which made him face a reality so many refugees experience: growing up too fast The now 25-year-old left Syria when he was 22 in hopes of living a better life away from the conflict that Syria has been undergoing since March 2011. He overcame a traumatic journey that some Syrians were not able to endure, and he shared that experience with Peacock Plume. 

Image Credit: Shutterstock/627527081

MB left Syria the night of the September 28 of 2015 and went to Beirut airport to fly to Istanbul where he could legally stay for three months. While he was in Istanbul, MB applied for French visa in hopes of getting to Europe legally, but unfortunately, his visa was refused three times which left him with no other option but to refer to a trafficker that was going to get him out illegally. He was put in touch with Al-Khal (Arabic for uncle) through a friend. The journey started when he went to Izmir on the 8 of December and met with the trafficker that put him at his own hotel. “It felt as if I was being watched, I wasn't allowed to leave the hotel, and if I did, I was accompanied by one of  Al-Khal’s men. It was obvious they were keeping an eye on me, so I don’t go and tell about their illegal trafficking. I wasn’t free to go anywhere I want.”

MB was supposed to stay at the hotel for no longer than 2 days.  But before his scheduled boat to the Lesvos in Greece, a cold storm appeared, which could potentially threaten the lives of the passengers, so his stay in Izmir was extended. And then  “One day, out of nowhere, a guy entered my room and said ‘you have 5 minutes to pack everything, we are being searched by Police petrol’  I was terrified of what could happen to me, after all, I was illegally staying in Turkey. The way I left in a hurry made me feel like a character being chased in a horror chasing film. As if I had done something wrong, but I hadn't.”

Al-Khal approached all the immigrants to let them know that the trip will take place in the next following days. The trip was originally going to take place on a boat, however,  the trip took place on a dinghy. “I got very worried considering it was winter and the sea was not at all calm, I mean all I could think about was if a wave is to hit the dinghy, it will easily flip. And, there was the risk of that boat deflating. Just the idea of being stuck in the middle of the sea, with no paddles on the boat is enough to make someone rethink this decision.” But MB had no other choice but to go along with this plan, even if it meant risking his life.

"it all happened too fast"

As MB continues to recount his journey, he describes the day of the trip as a series of adventures that happened too fast, “As we were packing our stuff to leave, we heard someone running while screaming ‘yallah, yallah, quickly, get into the cabs’ " he continues "Have you ever watched a car chasing film? it was the exact same. He [the trafficker] guides the cab to the dropping-off location, and which road to take – to not get caught by the police – it was such a weird feeling, it all happened too fast," During the interview, MB continued expressing how chaotic the experience was, and how long it took him to comprehend all that was happening to him. "We finally reached a very quiet and empty highway, so empty that ours was the only car parked there. Here the cab driver points at a tree-road behind the fences and says, "jump behind that fence and keep walking straight until you reach the shore" not even seconds after we got off the cab driver flew away.”

Image Credit:  Shutterstock/367744034

It was 2AM when MB's group was headed to the boat. He describes the environment as dark as the color black. They were not allowed to use their cell phone flashlight in fear of getting caught by a police patrol, which would lead them to be deported to their country of origin. “We were walking in a jungle, surrounded by big trees without any light. We were guided solely by the moonlight trying our best to avoid being caught.”As the group arrived at the meet point, 28 people were waiting including the trafficker and his men who were clearly armed with guns. They inflated the dinghy in front of them and then yelled for them to hold it and drag it to the water. After successfully putting the dinghy in the sea, women and children got on board first, then it was the males’ turn. Because of the large number of passengers and the small size of the dinghy, MB and some of his friends were forced to sit on the sides “at that moment, all we could think about was the cold weather we were facing, it was already -4 degrees, and the wind made it even worse." All the passengers on the boat were provided with life jackets, MB stresses, and at that point, when they were on the boat, all connections were severed with Al-Khal"It felt as if we were in a prison"

After 5 hours of staying still on the dinghy, they finally arrived to Lesvos, they were greeted by the Red Cross and UNICEF. "They provided us blankets, socks, clothes, gloves and of course food and drinks." The organizations put all the passengers in shuttle buses and moved them to camps where they stayed for two days. “The situation in the camps was very chaotic, it felt as if we were in a prison" MB explains "Supervisors guided every move we took. We were each given a sleeping bag and we were put in tents to have some rest.” During those two days on the island, they were required to file some papers that will allow them to legally stay in the Greek territories, where he would later present them to the Macedonian borders in order to cross it. “We took a microbus which deposed us at the port, and from there we took a ship heading to Macedonia. As soon as we arrived in Macedonia, we were advised to buy a train ticket that will take us from Macedonia to Serbia. The train was very crowded, and that was the point I lost the group I was with.”

Refugee Camps, Image Credits: MB

"We were in the middle of nowhere and so confused about what to do next"

As soon as the train stopped in Serbia, MB was reunited with his group, they left the train station together and went to the border bureau to get a ticket to legally stay. After their two hour walk to the Croatian border, he took a bus to Slovenia. After Slovenia, they were supposed to take a bus heading to Vienna in Austria; however, as they were loading passengers into the buses, MB learned that the bus was going to Strasburg, Germany. During the interview, MB stressed how this point was the most important one of his entire journey. He was supposed to meet his aunt in Vienna, who would take him to Paris. The bus stopped at a rest station on the Austrian borders, and there he met a man who also needed to go to Vienna to meet a family member. "As we talked, we decided that the best scenario is for us to escape. He added "While the passengers were being loaded into the buses going to Strasburg, we turned and hid behind a plateau until we made sure that they have completely moved away. We were in the middle of nowhere and so confused about what to do next."

Their only hope was for a passer-by to give them a ride along, but unfortunately, no one stopped for them and they had to spend the whole night at the rest stop. At the station, they met the night worker, who they explained their story to. As they were speaking, MB caught a glimpse of a police car moving towards them and realized that the worker had called the police on them. “The policeman lowered his window and asked for my legal papers. But luckily, I had kept every paper I got so far, and I handed them to him." The policeman told them to get in the car with him. They complied but were terrified in the backseat. "At that moment I sat with my friend and we started planning what to say if they investigated us.” A few minutes later, the policeman stops and tells them to get out of the car, when they did, they found that they were outside a train station that goes to Vienna.  

Image Credit: Shutterstock/368195708

Upon his arrival in Vienna, he separated ways with his friend, “I was supposed to wait for my aunt in Vienna, but I was out of patience, so I decided to take a risk and took a train heading to Cologne in Germany and another one to Paris.” After his three hour journey from Cologne to Paris, MB ended his chaotic journey. He arrived at Paris' Gare du Nord on January 5, 2016. After 4 and a half months of running from one city to another, MB finally got asylum in Paris and is now working, and enjoying the result of his five months of terror. He said despite the chaos of the trip, it taught him to be thankful for all he has now. “The number of horrifying stories you hear from those people who either lost their family or their homes really makes you very thankful for the situation you were in, no matter how bad I thought my life was, it was nothing compared to theirs.” MB is one of the few who was able to share his story with the world in hopes that people will become better understanding of the situation, and most importantly for people to acknowledge that these refugees used to have a very peaceful life that was ruined, and sadly, to some, it happened at a very young age forbidding them from living their lives as most people.