I tried 13 times before I reached the Greek islands
Our interview partner is a Palestinian psychologist from Gaza. He left Gaza to come to Europe. Currently he lives living in the hotspot camp in Moria on Lesvos. Before he arrived on Lesvos, he was pulled back 12 times by the Turkish coast guard and once even pushed back by German Frontex. This interview helped us grasp what it is to be on dangerous dinghies, pushed and pulled back to Turkey and arrested again and again.
Could you explain how you came to the Greek islands?
In Izmir, I was looking for someone who brings me to Greece. I found a person without too much effort. My first try took place in the end of January 2019. Our boat left the Turkish shore at midnight. We could only move very slowly because we were 45 persons on an only 9-meter long dinghy. One kilometer before reaching the Greek waters, the Turkish Coast Guard saw us. They crashed against our vessel two times to stop us. After that we were picked up onto their boat. Basically, the Turkish coast guard treated us well. However, they informed us that we were doing an illegal thing and that they will bring us to Aydin - a Turkish jail. The jail was clean. I saw only a few persons there. After three days they let me out. I think, this is because the Turkish Government is close to the Palestinians. With another nationality, things could have been different.
You tried to cross the Aegean Sea several times. How was it figured out who will drive the boat?
I knew that the drivers of the boat could get into serious problems if the Greece authorities caught them. The smugglers also know this. The drivers are mainly persons who don’t have enough money for the passage. This is the price they pay for the passage. Sometimes the drivers don’t have any experience on sea. They just know that they have to target a red light on the Greek shore.
What about the other attempts?
Out of jail, I met again the person who tried to bring me to Europe the first time. He brought me to a two-room-apartment. I stayed with 25 other persons. We were not allowed to leave the apartment. In the night a small bus took 45 of us to a place from where the boats are starting. But in that night, the Turkish coast Guard caught us again. While they tore me out of the dinghy, my shoulder dislocated. I asked for help but no doctor came. Not even the next day in jail. They kept me five days in jail before letting me out. Again I went to the person that was supposed to bring me to Europe. I tried four further times with him. Each time I had to pay 240 Dollar for the apartment and 700 Dollar for the passage if I would have succeeded. But with him I was never successful. Once we were even stopped before we reached the dinghy. We were so many in the bus that we couldn’t breathe anymore. The bus was stopped and the police discovered us and brought us to jail again. I decided to look for another person to bring me to Europe.
What about your experiences with this second person trying to bring you to Europe?
I realized the dinghies were to slow because we were too many. So I was looking for a better option. I found someone that promised to bring me to Greece on a boat with fewer passengers. First, I had to pay 40 lira per day for a hotel room and for each try he asked 100 lira in advance. In case of a successful passage I would have to pay 700 dollars. I accepted the deal. However, he cheated: On the boat we were 37 instead of the 25 we agreed on. One more time, the Turkish coast guard stopped us and brought us to Yabangi, another prision. Yabangi was dirty and worse than Aydin. I stayed there for three nights. Then they let me out and I wanted to try again. Every time, I had to pay, pay, pay. I tried five times with this person. We were always much more than the promised 25 persons. Finally I changed strategy. Some people said that I could only make it with a speedboat.
Did you find a person with a speedboat?
Yes, I found this man in March 2019. He proposed a passage on a speedboat with only 16 persons on board for 1200 euro. I accepted the deal. But when we reached the boat, I realized that he also fooled me. Instead of a speedboat, I saw a normal dinghy. Some insisted on getting life jackets for the children. However, we had to leave without life jackets because there was no time. The situation was tense. That night, the Turkish coast guard didn’t stop us. For the first time, I entered Greek waters. There a German Frontex vessel intercepted us. They said that we have to wait for the Greek coast guard and they would bring us to the Greek shore. But instead, the Turkish Coast Guard came. Although we were in Greek waters, they pulled us back to Turkey. We got no further information.
Why did you know that you were in Greek water?
The people that sent us were watching us from the hills on shore. They were in contact with one person on the boat. At one point, they called us and said we crossed the border. On the dinghies there is always such a contact person and a second person with a GPS.
How did your last border crossing take place?
That night, the sea was extremely agitated. Water came into our boat. It was dangerous but the Turkish coast guard didn’t catch us. After we crossed the border, the Greek coast guard picked us up and brought us to the port of Mytilini on Lesvos. They treated us well.
Now you are in Europe. You said it was a dream to come to Europe. How is your life here?
If I would have known how life would be here I would never have come. I expected a better situation. In Gaza, I lived in camps. Now in Europe I lived in another camp. This is a big problem. I hope that my asylum application will be accepted. I would continue my journey to find a better life.
Did you get information regarding your rights as an asylum seeker?
Yes I got information. But when you see things, you realize that there is a difference between words and reality. I will give you an example. They said there are rooms, a kitchen, toilets and showers in the Hotspot Camp in Moria. Now in Moria, I am living in a tent burning hot during the day, I have to share six toilets with 600 others and I spend a lot of time waiting in a line for a toilet or food.
You had a lot of problems getting to Europe. What do you think is the reason for this?
Ask the Greek government for an answer but not me. I am here because I had problems in my country. But I cannot cause a problem here by criticizing the government. I hope to find a job and a good life later. Here I have to be patient.