Destination: a place at which to preserve one’s future

refugees welcome

This could be the story of one of the hundred thousand of young people who felt tired, hopeless and without future and who one day decided to abandon their place of residence for a better way of living and developing their future.
In the era of economic exile, it wouldn’t be anything strange to hear about a young guy who decided to migrate to Germany. After two years, this guy is now working as an assistant in a German school for disabled children and he is living with other young people in a shared flat. He is quite happy and he has no plans to go back home in the early future because he dreams of one day studying odontology at university.
This story could be a satisfactory and pleasant story. For a migrant there are many different reasons why to leave and how to end up in a new country. Today, I’m meeting Badr. He is a participant of the FYEG Summer Camp and I want to know a little more about “his story”. I’m meeting him for an interview at the cafeteria. A few minutes later Irena, a green activist from Serbia, joins us for the interview, she is also curious about Badr’s story.   

Badr Abdallah Abdul Rahman is a 22 years old Syrian refugee who since 1st of September 2015 is living in Germany where he is working as an assistant in a school for disabled children. He decided to leave his country when he had to enter the military service in a country where nobody knows when the war will be ending. For this reason, he decided not to put on the military uniform and head for Europe.

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How did you know about the FYEG’s Summer Camp?

I have known about the SC from my friend Laura, another Green activist. She used to be my neighbour when I’ve arrived one year and half ago in Berndorf (Germany) and she invited me to come to the Summer Camp.   

Why did you decide to leave Syria?

I decided to leave my country in summer 2015 because I knew that in mid-2016 I should enter the military service in Syria. For this reason, I decided to leave my country some months in advance, because otherwise it wouldn’t be possible to abandon the country. I knew from my friends of my village that once you enter the military service you must join the war and this is something that I didn’t want to do.

Have you told anyone that you will leave Syria?

No, I haven’t told anyone. Only my family knew that I was leaving.

Were you afraid of possible reprisals of the Syrian Government?

Even though I was leaving Syria in a legal way, it would have been dangerous to let people know that I was leaving the country. I should keep it secret otherwise I could be in trouble. The Government considers it a crime when citizens leave the country and  skip the military service.

Do you remember how you left Syria?

I left Syria 18th of August 2015. I remember it was a Tuesday. I took my luggage with some clothes and money. My objective was clear, I wanted to reach Europe.

Can you explain how the way to Europe was?

I knew the travel would be long but I wouldn’t have imagined that it would last 10 days. The first place I went to was Lebanon, it took me around 5 hours by car from my hometown. The same night, I flew from Lebanon to Adana (Turkey). In Adana, I took a 15 hour bus towards to the west coast of Turkey, Izmir. The next step would be Europe.

Which was the first European country you arrived at?

When I arrived into the west coast of Turkey, I travelled until the port of Izmir. My aim was to cross by boat from Izmir to Samos, a Greek island in the Mediterranean sea. After Greece, I will cross other countries: Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany etc.

When you left Syria, did you know which country you wanted to reach?

My original idea was going to Norway. But I only got as far as Germany.

Why did you want to go to Norway?

Because I have a cousin living in Norway. He told me that it is little colder there, but there are good conditions, so I wanted to go to him.

How did you organise the itinerary to Europe?

Most of the time I was using my own contacts but also, I organised my itinerary through some private Facebook groups where there are people explaining which are the steps for reaching Greece and what the trip could look like.

Could you imagine in advance how the travel to Greece would be like?

Before leaving my country, I watched some images on TV  with sunken boats. So I noticed that it could be dangerous; but I didn’t have anything to lose. Greece is the door of Europe, I need to go there. I knew that there are other ways of reaching the European Union but those are even more dangerous.

Were you afraid to cross the sea?

In fact, my way to reach Greece was not that easy at all. I paid 1200 dollars for crossing in a boat from Turkey to Greece. When I met the guy, who will bring me to Samos, he explained what the trip would look like. He made me trust him; but the reality was very different from the things he explained.

What was different from the smuggler description?

He told me that this kind of trips lasts around 4 hours. He said that I would be travelling with 30-40 more people. He mentioned that I could bring my belongings with me. So, I decided to go.

But finally, many things were different from his explanation. We stayed more than 10 hours on the boat. We were 52 people in an 8-meter-long boat. 40 people didn’t know how to swim and three women were pregnant. And of course, I had to travel without any of my belongings.

The most impressive thing was that the driver wasn’t a professional, he selected one person from the “passengers”, who for 5 minutes taught him to sail the boat, and after this, he would be leading the boat until Samos.

Apparently, the “captain” got half of the 1200 dollars I paid for the “ticket”.

Did you feel safe?

I was scared at the beginning but after as fine. It is incredible how Samos island seemed to be close as we could see the lights from the island. When I saw the lights of Samos, and I felt it wasn’t far away but, it was very far away. Furthermore, as the driver was inexperienced it took much more time. In some point, he couldn’t control the boat and up to three hours we went in the wrong direction.

Have you felt that your life was in danger?

The worst part of all of this was when the wind started to be high and the water entered the boat. Everything got wet. The motor of the boat was working very slowly and not in a good way. People started to cry and scream. It was a scary situation. Everybody was panicking. But finally, thanks to a GPS and the telephone of one of the passengers, we knew we were at the Greek sea and we could call the Greek Coastguard service.

Then, you were rescued by the Greek forces?

Yes, we were rescued by the Greek forces. At the fourth telephone call, they answered the phone and they told us that they will rescue us. They sent a plane for locating us and immediately after they send a boat. After 30 minutes, we saw a little small boat far away from us but it was approaching very fast. It seemed that the boat was flying.

Finally, the boat comes to us and they pick up us and we arrive safely at the island. When we arrived the police registered us, they took our picture and I was smiling a little.

While you were travelling, did you contact your family?

I remember when I’ve arrived in Samos it was dark, and at some point, my father contacted me via WhatsApp. At this moment, I was waiting for the registration papers of the Greek police after that I would take a ferry to Athens, but this night I would be sleeping at the harbour. My father wanted to know how I was and where I was. I told him that everything was fine; I told him that I was very lucky that night for being in a Greece Island, in a five star hotel with full service and jacuzzi. Then he asked me to send him a picture of the place. The photo was a picture from the harbour and some of the cartons in which I was sleeping with that night. (Badr is laughing)

Which was the next country after Greece?

From Athens, I took an eight hour bus to the Macedonian border. Because this is the route to the Western European countries: Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Germany.

The military services from Macedonia were waiting for us to protect and organise people in groups of 30 people. They also divided us into two groups, some people would reach the Serbian border by train and some others by bus. I took the bus. Near the Serbian border, there was a village where the police were waiting for us and they organised us, for going to the police centre to make registration. I decided not to be registered myself, I didn’t want to do it because it could take up to 3 days to have the registration done and I decided to escape this place and pay 50 euros for a car which will drive me to Belgrade.  I arrived in Belgrade and I went to sleep in the garden outside the train station. I felt safe.

Which other difficulties did you find on your way?

I remember that, during my second day in Serbia, I went by car to Horgos, which is three hours walking away from the Hungarian border. The physical border of Serbia and Hungary is a river. It was quite complicated to cross. We tried several times, but there were lot of police and military services looking out for us. We knew that if they catch us then we would stay in the police station. We tried to cross it the whole night, but it was very difficult. Moreover, the border has a circular fence which was scary.

Finally, some of the people which I tried to cross the border with decided to surrender themselves to the police, but I decided to take the risk and run into a corn field which was high enough so that  the police couldn’t see me. At the other side of the corn field, there was a gas station and over there I had the opportunity to pay 250 euros for a driver who would bring me in two hours to Budapest.

Do you think that there are people making profit from the migrant’s situation?

I think that there are some people making a lot of money and also, I saw how some people are unpunished to justice.

For example, when I arrived In Budapest, I slept in a hostel, where I met a guy who would bring me to the first village in Germany for 500 euros. In fact, a total of 15 cars would leave from that hostel to Germany. But, unfortunately, the police caught us and they sent all of us (smugglers included) to prison. We spent one night there. This was one of the worst moments of the long trip.

The police asked so many questions, they wanted to know details about the trip and about the countries I crossed until reaching Hungary. After one day in prison, we all were out. The smugglers were also out of prison when by the law trafficking with people implies up of 5 years of prison.

What did you do after your stay in prison?

The police told us that we could go to a refugee camp, they gave us the address of the camp. But of course, I didn’t go. I went back to the hotel Budapest where I was sleeping the previous day, and I find the same smuggler there who told me that he would bring me to Germany the next day only for 50 extra euros.  So, I tried to cross the Hungarian border for the second time. Finally, it went out well. I first crossed the Austrian border until the last town in Austria before Germany.  

How did you skip being registered by the police  in Hungary?

They didn’t ask to do it. I was sharing the car which would bring me to the German border with a Syrian family. They were a couple with four children. After having crossed the Austrian border, the car stopped eight kilometres away from the German border. As the way to Germany was long, I helped them with the kids to cross the border. Specifically, I helped to carry one of the four children they had.

I remember I was walking with one child behind the parents. In some point, we saw the police and the parents went to them. I knew that I had to avoid the police if I wanted to go to Norway, but in that moment, I couldn’t because I had in my hand this child.  So, I followed them. I arrived at the police station and they made me the fingerprint. *

How did you feel in that moment?

I was sad and happy at the same time. I felt sad because, for the first time, I had the feeling that I couldn’t do whatever I was planning to do since I have left Syria. But at the same time, when I saw the parents of the kids crying because their child was with them, it was beautiful. It was very emotional seeing how this family was united and they reached Germany which was the place they wanted to be in. They cried when they saw me with the kid going into the police station.

Do you think that the child of the Syrian parents you helped to cross the border is the reason why you are now in Germany?

Yes. I think I can say that this child is the reason why I’m now in Germany, otherwise, I would try to continue my way to Norway.

Many times, I think that at the end I was lucky to be in Germany. When I see all the people from Syria on the streets and at the refugee camp, I feel awful. It is at this moment when I feel that I was lucky in the end.  

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*There is a central data bank – Eurodac – where data and fingerprints of all people entering European states and presenting asylum requests are registered.

The asylum request by a third country national is to be presented in the first European country the person arrives in – usually, either Italy or Greece – and where he or she was identified by local authorities.