Mohammad (Abu Oday)
From: Damascus, Syria
Before the war I owned a restaurant that served traditional Syrian food: hummus, fool, falafel, in the Palestinian refugee city, Mohayim Al-yarmouk. After ISIS took over, I moved to a place called Def Ashok and started working in Ja-ramana. If you live in Def Ashok you are forced to support Assad’s regime. On my way to work at 8:00 am, soldiers from Assad’s regime stopped me and others and forced us to dig holes for tunnels, and to make sandbags. They do this a lot– they stop people on the road and take them to work on these jobs for the day. The next day they take different people. When they finally called me to fight in the army, my only choice was to leave the country.
(Audio excerpt from Abu Oday’s interview)
With my wife, my son, and two daughters, I left Damascus and went to Hama and then to Edleb. To get to Turkey, I paid the smugglers 800,000 Syrian pounds for me and my wife and 200,000 for the children. In Turkey we stayed in Antakia for three days and then continued on to Izmir. There, we stayed with the smugglers in a hotel for eight days. Then, we started our series of attempts to reach Greece by boat.
The first time, we got to the beach, piled onto the boat, and started crossing the sea. A half an hour into our trip, the engine stopped. We tried to fix it, but the rope of the engine was ruined. The Turkish police came and brought us back to Turkey. They took us to the police station for a little while and then let us go.
The next time, the boat was full of Afghan people– my family and one other guy were the only Syrians on the boat. The person driving the boat was Afghan. He had no idea how to drive the boat. We started swerving left and right, left and right, unable to move forward in a straight path. Once again, the police caught us and took us to the police station.
At the police station, they asked which one of us was driving the boat. Nobody said anything. They found out that the Afghan guy was the driver. The police slapped him. The Afghan people thought that we, the two Syrian guys, told the police. The police had actually seen the guy driving the boat, but the Afghan guys thought it was our fault, so they threatened to take revenge. They didn’t.
The third time, we drove three hours to a really far beach. We got onto the boat and started to cross the sea. Then, the bottom of the boat started to leak.
I looked around and saw all of the children in the boat, including my own. I thought, oh God what should I do if the boat starts to sink? I was not thinking about myself, but about the children. I told my children, if anything happens, my darlings, do not just hold each other. You must focus on yourself, we each had our own life jacket and tube.
A boat full of Greek police came to watch us and to be there to rescue us if we started to drown. Our boat finally, somehow, arrived to Samos island.
On the island, we went to the camp, registered for police papers, and took a ferry to Athens.
We continued north to the Macedonian border. Once we got there, we wished we had not come. The situation was terrible. There were a lot of people, no place to stay there, and not enough food. It rained constantly. My daughter got sick. She had a terrible headache. She started vomiting and running a high fever.
And I ran out of money. My family sent us 100,000 Syrian pounds from Damascus. We exchanged it here for only 165 Euro. The money in Syria is very inflated. I was really upset that I had to take money from my family in Syria, but it was my only choice.
So we came back to Athens and registered in the relocation program. They gave me a white card and told me that my interview will be in two months.
I don’t care which country I go to, I just want to settle down somewhere. I want a home so I can take care of my children. One of my daughters is still in Syria. I want to bring her over,and the rest of my family. Really, I just wish that the war would stop in Syria so we could go back.
All I want is a future for my children. Sham is four years-old, Ilays is five, Oday is ten, and Raghad is fifteen.They can have a good life in Europe. Maybe I will open a traditional Syrian restaurant in Europe– I hope people there appreciate traditional Syrian food.
Mohammad’s son, Ilayis (age five)
Hello my name is Ilayis. We went on a boat but it stopped in the middle of the sea. We were stuck for more than an hour because the engine stopped: the rope didn’t work anymore. Then we called the smuggler. The Turkish border guards came and arrested us. Then they took us to the prison. Someone started to talk to my friend Ahmad who was with us. The soldier started to scream at him and yell at him. Then tried it again and we arrived to the Greek island.