“Death Journey” is what I call our passage from Syria to Switzerland because of the misery, humiliation and danger we faced. I do not even have words to describe it. It was a real confrontation with death and a struggle for survival.
We paid a smuggler a large amount of money to reserve places on a boat that would take us from Turkey to Greece. Our trip started on a rubber boat that launched from the shore of the city of Izmir, in Turkey. When we arrived to our point of departure, we were happy to see that the boat looked somewhat new, but the scary part came when we saw the number of people who got on it. The boat was designed to carry a maximum of 35 people, but there were 60 men, women and children on it. We were really scared that it might sink, but it was our only hope to get out, and there was no way we could change our minds.
The waves were very high. The boat was rocking and our hearts were rocking with it. My family and I tried to be strong, and we stuck to each other, but hearing women and children screaming drained all our strength and courage. The rubber boat was navigated by one of the passengers, who clearly knew nothing about sailing. We kept turning around in the middle of the sea instead of moving forward. The smuggler had informed us that the trip to Greece would take us one hour and fifteen minutes, but we spent four horrific hours in the middle of the sea, until we were finally spotted by the coastguard and members of the Red Cross, who instructed us on how to reach the shores of Greece.
When we arrived, we were welcomed by people from UNICEF and the Red Cross. They transported us in cars to a nearby center of theirs, where we got to change our soaked clothes, and from there they took us to a refugee camp. The camp was a big disappointment. It was packed with people, and I could not find any available spot to rest, so I spent the day outside in the cold. I could not fall asleep that night. It was very cold and the blankets they had given us were not enough to keep us warm.
After they took our pictures and our fingerprints at the camp, they gave us a permission letter to leave. We headed to the port early because we thought that the ferry to Athens would leave in the morning, but when we arrived, we learned that it actually leaves at 8 p.m., so we had to sit like beggars on the street for the whole day. We all had a cold. We were coughing and sneezing, and I was shivering from cold and horror at the same time. My journey started with nothing but misery, and I kept asking myself, “If the beginning was that bad, what else is in store for us?”
People from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other countries gathered to board the ferry. Of course, there were people from different countries traveling with fake Syrian passports, using the Syrian crisis as a way to reach Europe. It was very hard to get on the ferry, because of the sheer number of refugees, and because the Greek officers appeared to lack any organizational skills. My little sister was really sick, so after three hours of waiting and trying to get on the ferry in a civilized way, my mother finally decided to do what everyone else was doing; she started pushing our way in, but while in the middle of the crowd, my brother let go of her hand and disappeared. She lost her mind and we had to leave everything and look for him. Thankfully, he was pretty close and we found him right away, but he was scared and my mother almost went crazy. It was a challenging moment that I do not want to think of anymore.
It took us four hours to board the ferry. We were very tired and cold, but we finally found a warm place, and we all fell asleep for the entire seven-hour trip. We arrived in Serbia and then went on to Macedonia. The Red Cross transported us to Croatia and then to Slovenia. Each refugee camp we stayed at was worse than the last one. They all lacked organization and hygiene and, honestly, none of them was suitable for human beings. I always thought that humiliation was a unique thing that happened only in Syria, but I was surprised that even in Europe, the place where human rights are highly respected, we were treated like criminals and fugitives.
In Austria, we were all subjected to an exhaustive search. I asked about the reason behind this treatment and someone mentioned that it was all because one of the guys who had participated in the Paris attacks had a Syrian passport. What I heard made me laugh and wonder: Why would a criminal carry his passport to his crime scene?
When we left the car in Croatia, some officers sprayed pesticides inside the car to prevent diseases; that was by far the most humiliating and hurtful moment of our trip. I felt that I was very small. I felt that I had no value and that I was no more than a germ. However, some feelings of determination were emerging in me – I would prove to all these people that Syrians were much better than what they thought.
We went from Austria to Germany. In Germany, they took our fingerprints again, and we were forced to apply for asylum, although we made it clear that we did not want to. As soon as they let us out, we started our journey to Switzerland. We walked for a long time, until we reached the train station, where we boarded a train. We changed trains several times before reaching Basel, where the Swiss, French and German borders meet, and where our relative met us. We stayed with our relative for two days, and then we applied for asylum in one of the immigration centers in Lausanne.
Every country we passed through treated us like stray dogs. They gave us food, but they forgot that we were human beings and that we needed love and support. We had just left a war-torn country and all we needed was someone to be humane. I do not know who to blame for this – we have become homeless germs that spread disease.
I will do everything I can to prove that Syrians deserve respect. I want to live with dignity and I hope that Switzerland is the beginning of a new journey.