22أغسطس
Tariq and his friends, and they are walking on the snow

Syrians Crossing Death… in Search of “Paradise in Europe”

Tariq arrived to Lebanon from Syria, accompanied by Raafat and Ehab, at the beginning of the year. In the possession of each, a large sum of money and tickets from Middle East Airlines to Turkey. They need to abide by the conditions imposed by the Lebanese authorities on Syrians wishing to enter Lebanon from Syria. Their plan was to move, later, from Turkey to Germany, illegally.

On the Lebanese side, at Al Masnaa point on the Lebanese – Syrian border, one of the soldiers advised them not to show their plane tickets to Turkey because that might expose them to delay and investigation into the reasons for travelling there. So they thought it would be a good idea to change their reason for visitin Lebanon, while still respecting the new Lebanese laws concerning Syrians, since the beginning of 2015. Indeed, they connected with a friend living in Alay City (Mt. Lebanon) to book them in one of the city’s hotels.

“Do you feel cold?” asked a security personnel, whose was to  maintain order in front of the authorization access windows, while managing the queue of people waiting in the open to get an entry to Lebanon. “We answered him: no…”, says Tariq. But the officer didn’t like the answer, so he ordered them: “You should say: Monsters never feel cold! Just like you were taught in the army!”. Tariq, at this point, wasn’t able to decide what to do next. Should they all go back to Syria? Or continue their way beyond the insults?

Finally, it was their turn. Ehab entered the Lebanese territory. Have you got 1000 dollars?”, the officer asked Tariq. He replied: “I have 5000 dollars”.. But then, plenty of questions followed: “Where did you get them from? Where will you spend them?…”. Then he was allowed to enter. And when it was Rafaat’s turn, his entry was initially refused because “the hotel reservation in Regent’s Palace is faque”, according to the officer. But how could that be? They all made rge reservation together in the same hotel, and got a copy of their booking, sent to them by a friend via WhatsApp (they printed it in a small shop on the Lebanese border for $7 per copy).

Finally, Rafaat entered, after a 12 hour delay. He was allowed to stay in Lebanon for 24 hours only. So he spent the remaining time at Rafiq Hariri International Airport, in order not to violate his residency requirements, nor face last minute problems that could threaten his dream of reaching Europe.

According to a European Border Agency (Frontex) report, 207 thousand people from conflict zones in the Middle East, such as Syria, Iraq and Palestine, fought a deadly adventure to reach European shores by sea, over the past year. Of those, only 182,156 have succeeded to survive and access, while 3,419 migrants drowned. Tariq’s comment on the subject is that the prospect of drowning is probable. He then adds, sarcastically: “Our friend in Turkey, who is waiting for us to travel together, has always asked us: When will you arrive so that we can die together?”. Tariq continues sadly: “If the conditions of living were appropriate in Syria, I wouldn’t have left. My mother cried a lot when I said goodbye…. I don’t know whether I’m happy or sad”.

In Turkey, the group found the trafficker – the godfather of their trip to Europe. The following station will be Greece, for $1,100 each. “We are walking Euros, no more. This is how the trafficker sees us, hotel personnel too, and anyone we need to help us get to Europe”, says Tariq. The trip was disrupted three times, due to engine failure in the boat filled with immigrants. So, in the third attempt, the passengers had to paddle alone to return the boat to the Turkish coast because the trafficker had left them in the middle of the sea. The waves were high, and everyone was weeping in fear. Tariq says that his two companions withdrew from the venture, conquered by anxiety and fear, but he remained determined to fight till the end.

Access to “paradise… Europe” was not easy, as he had to cross three states on his feet, accompanied by a group of Syrians he knew on the boat sailing from Turkey to Greece. Two days ago, finally, he arrived to Vienna. But this adventure faced many obstacles, as the Albanian authorities arrested him with 12 others.

Before his arrest, Tariq was a member of the group that dealt with traffickers to get them to Albania, but traffickers have divided them in two groups. The first one kicks off well before the second. It turned out that the first group was intended as a bait for the Albanian authorities to arrest, which means clearing the way for the second group led by traffickers. Indeed, one of the groups managed to escape and continued its way to Serbia, where they arrived five days ahead before Tariq did. Tariq was arrested, after a chase during which he was forced to throw his back bag to get rid of its burden and jog in the snow. And after the Albanian authorities released him, he spent two days lost in the country. During that time, he met a trafficker who led him later to Montenegro, one of the two republics of Yugoslavia, South Europe, and it took 15 hours to access road to Serbia where he obtained papers from the Ministry of Interior proving his legitimate stay. The big surprise was when he met his companions who had arrived before him to Belgrade, and he continued the trip toVienna with them.

Tariq considers Germany, which was the target of all these risks, in the palms of his hands. There, he will continue his studies from where he left off at Al-Baath University in Homs, where he graduated at the Faculty of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and petroleum despite the buzzing bullets and explosions. Only then, will Tariq have the chance to forget his unfortunate, horrific days in Syria, as well as all the sufferings of his two-month trip at sea, forest, frost, and snow.. in Albania, Macedonia and Serbia: “I feel I have boundless energy… I can do anything now. I am strong!” he says .

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