Our Only Goal Was The Western Shore

My neighbour Jihan and I are very close friends, she is a funny woman, however she ends up crying for hours whenever she hears news about people who lose their lives trying to flee their country by boat. I know her story very well and I felt it necessary to share it with you:

“In the summer of 2000, my husband and I decided to get the boat with our two year old daughter to reach the shores of Europe. My husband was from a wealthy family, but I was a very young bride and I suffered from his mother’s ill-treatment to me, since my house was attached to my husband’s family’s house.

My husband lost his job and he sold all my gold and I had a daughter. Then when things went out of control, because there were no jobs, I was humiliated by my mother in law in my own house over and over again.

We agreed with a broker to get us to Europe, we had to sell our house to be able to pay him for the trip and the only thing left for us was our family’s photo album which I left with my mom. I did not take anything with me apart from a small bag containing my daughter’s things mostly.

I said goodbye to my family in an August night and headed to Beirut where the boat was supposed to be waiting for us. We waited with other families for several weeks for the boat to come.  The broker kept postponing one day after the other. Finally the boat came and the broker said the best time to leave would be at 5 AM so the Lebanese security guards won’t notice us.

From the movie The Immigrant
From the movie The Immigrant

Europe, our dream destination for many years, this sparkling dream suddenly vanished when all of us stood dumbfounded in front of a tiny flimsy boat at 5 AM. The boat looked like it could hardly carry 10 people. How could this thing carry 300 people from Lebanon all the way to Greece?

The atmosphere was filled with noise and complaints of families until the broker told us that if we don’t be quiet the Lebanese police would arrest all of us. I only saw two options ahead of us: first – to go back to where we came from but this time without even a house or any belongings, since we had sold them all. The second option was to bite the bullet and carry on with this boat. I was so scared and all I was worried about was my daughter’s life, but I had faith in God.

We sat inside the boat, squeezed next to each other like Sardines; I personally did not have enough space to sit with my daughter on my lap. I could hardly breathe. We moved away from the land and that was the last time we saw the broker.

The boat was swinging right and left so heavily in the middle of the ocean, it felt like it was struggling against the weight of 300 people, it was so scary and we felt as if it would tip over, so some of us suggested that it would be best to turn off the motor and leave our fate to the waves, the waves that were supposed to take us to Greece.

Most of us were women and children and everyone got sick on that shaky boat. Imagine constantly vomiting on an empty stomach! We were all half passed out, and I do not remember most of the trip because I was not completely conscious, I just remember holding my daughter tightly.

Most of women were urinating on themselves because they were embarrassed to do it in public; I used to ask my husband and one of the men to cover me while doing it.

Copyright AP Photo Petros Giannakouris
Copyright AP Photo Petros Giannakouris

“We spent three days getting sick in the middle of the ocean until my husband and I finally could do nothing else but surrender ourselves to death. We forgave each other and I kept looking at the sky wishing to see a helicopter coming to save us from this hell. We did not die and no helicopter was sent to save us.

The waves threw us to a touristic beach in Cyprus, where tourists stopped swimming and instead started to take pictures of us like we were some kind of aliens.

The Cyprus border police came and took the women and children to another boat and kept the men in that already broken boat to meet their fate. They pushed the broken boat back into the ocean and watched it breaking completely in front of everyone’s eyes, and it was only then that the rescue teams started to rescue the men and put them in the other boat with us.

We all stayed in the other boat eating only sandwiches and waiting for an unknown future. They never let any of us step one step out of the boat in order to avoid having to give us asylum.

After a month had passed with us locked on that boat, a police officer came and told us that they will give us asylum in another Cypriot Island called Larnaca. We all felt so relieved and they sent a midwife with us because there was a pregnant woman on the boat who actually gave birth on our way to Larnaca.

We changed boats again and then we found ourselves somewhere very familiar. Lebanon! Yes, Lebanon, again. They sent us back to Lebanon and from there directly to Adra prison in Damascus with all our children.

We stayed in Adra for several weeks and then they released us and we went back to where we came from with nothing but exhaustion and frustration; however I was very thankful that my daughter survived that trip and that she was still alive in my arms.

Today I am still here, in Hasaka, with my daughter who, despite her good work at school, has a lot of psychological problems usually uncommon for a 17 year old girl. She still remembers details from the boat journey, like how the waves would toss us about the ocean.

“Of course, when I see all that we suffer today in Rojava because of war and terrorism, I cry and lament our fate. I always ask myself, what could have happened to us if the Cypriot police had allowed us to stay? What if the boat had been crushed in the middle of the ocean with no one to help us? What if my daughter was now living happily in a safe country, what would she be like? If only…”