TRNN in Greece: A Refugee Recounts Her Journey From Turkey to Greece
Dimitri Lascaris interviews Maisa about experience with fraudulent smugglers and her passage to Greece with her mother and sister, only to have them now face deportation
DIMITRI LASCARIS, TRNN: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News from Lesvos, Greece at the conclusion of the Crossing Borders Conference on the refuge and migrant crisis and I’m joined here today by a young lady by the name of Maisa of Syrian origin. Thank you for speaking with us today.
MAISA: You’re welcome.
LASCARIS: So I understand that you left Syria with your family many years ago. What was it that greenly speaking caused your family to leave Syria at that time.
MAISA: The troubles in Syria, it’s not recent. It’s not something new to Syrians. They were facing troubles long, long time ago from the government. Young youths, they have to enter army and fight for the country and not even exactly for the country but like against the people over there. So most of the youth, they didn’t want to, they never wanted to enter the army because of this thing. So my father had to leave Syria for that point. And even my mother, they were, they treated her, they treated the women over there very harshly because of the Hijab. Because of the Islam. Schools, the government schools, they never excepted the ladies to be covered. So she left and they ended up in Pakistan where they went and completed their education.
LASCARIS: I’m sorry, what year was that?
MAISA: It was in 1980s. Yeah. My father was there in 1983 and my mother was in the end, 1989. We were born in Pakistan and we lived all our life in Pakistan. We faced many troubles over there. Even the government of Pakistan they never accepted us and they always took us as foreigners and refugees at the same time. They never accepted giving us the nationality as we were born over there. The government, the Syrian embassy in Pakistan, they never gave us the legal papers as we’re Syrians until 2013. We asked from them that we want to leave the country. We were refugees, we were with the UN[inaud] for 13 years. They helped us in our education and many things because we were all alone over there. When- after we got our papers, our Syrian passports in Pakistan, we- my father, he already he was settled in Turkey and he told us that there are studies, a better future in Turkey where we had to leave Pakistan because we couldn’t continue our full education over there. After going to Turkey last year in 2015, February, I’ve noticed that it was all false, it was nothing from what people used to say that Turkey is providing everything to the Syrians- giving them education, jobs, residence. They were treated very well. But it was just an alter-image for the world. I’ve lived one year in Turkey, which I spent it all at home, no studies, no job. It was, the language, it was very hard communicating with people. I couldn’t do that at all. After that, that was the moment, like my mom, she decided to leave Turkey and go to Europe for a better future. We tried 3, 4 times for that. It was very hard to find a good smuggler that would just, reach us safely. But we got cheated 2, 3 times. And in the end finally…
LASCARIS: What, what presumably there was a cost you had to pay when you were cheated those 2 or 3 times and if so what was it your family had to pay?
MAISA: It was almost 5,000 dollars.
LASCARIS: On each occasion?
MAISA: We were 6 people. But, so then that person totally disappeared. We were in a very bad situation because even the way going out of Turkey, it was very hard. It was all, we had to take loans. We had to just hold on ourselves, just not spend money on ourselves, just so we can get a better future. But in the end, we got nothing. It took us longer time until my mom could manage it again, until the 18 of March…
LASCARIS: Of this year?
MAISA: Yes this year. 18 of march, it was someone close, a good person who contacted us and he said- I would help you with less amount of money and if you want to go out. And- my mom was really happy for that. It was such a sudden- leaving everything behind in Turkey in seconds going to the boarders. It was a very terrible situation. It was very frightening.
LASCARIS: Could you just describe the crossing for a second, what you experienced when you came to Lesbos from Turkey?
MAISA: I stayed- when we left Istanbul to [inaud], we stayed 1 year under the sun in a very bad place. It was totally and empty, very far from the main city. We were like- we couldn’t do anything. Everyone was afraid. They told us just stay quiet, that any second the police could come. Anything can happen. Like we don’t want this to be, like- that you return and doesn’t get completed.
LASCARIS: And how many people approximately were there in that area with you?
MAISA: At that date, we were plenty but we took 2 rafts. The one we were in thank god, my mom didn’t accept that more than 40 to 45 people to get on the raft. So…
LASCARIS: This was an inflatable raft? Is that what it was? Or was it a wooden boat?
MAISA: No it was of air. So we, we stayed until midnight, cold, hunger, the children crying, no complete sleep, tensions. It was so frustrated. The time was going very slow and I felt like it’s an ages it’s been. At night, then, the smuggler finally said you’re about to move, and it was the night of the 20th of March so it was just before the EU deal with Turkey. So we- I didn’t have any idea about this deal. I didn’t have any- I didn’t have any further image about what’s there further. What will happen in the future, what any step I would take ahead. So we’d just gotten on the boat. Everyone just rushing. They just wanted to leave. Everyone was afraid that the boarder, like anyone would see us. We would be captured…
LASCARIS: Were you all wearing life jackets?
MAISA: Almost, yeah. All.
LASCARIS: And so when you got to the other side, what was the first thing that you encountered?
MAISA: It’s- the journey took us 2 and a half hours, which I felt it very long. I felt that the land is never coming again. Or whenever I looked up all I could see was water and only water. People shouting. Just trying to know where did we reach. The motor stopped with us 2, 3 times on the way. It was very terrible, frightening. We were all nervous. Vomiting, headaches. It was totally incomparable. Once the Greek, the helpers, the volunteers, on the other side on the island, when they came and helped us, we reached the end of the island but once I saw them, I felt something from inside different. I started crying for the way they welcomed us. They helped us there on the island. They covered us. My mom was in a very bad situation that I couldn’t handle myself. I was really afraid that I would lose my mother. She- because of the cold and the water on her, her nerves got frozen. Everyone just knowing- are we alive? We never believed that. We were so afraid and they kept on telling us that, fine, you’re safe now on the island. You’ve reached- over there they took us Moria, they gave us food and everything.
LASCARIS: Moria is a refugee camp.
MAISA: Yeah in Moria, and it was something totally different. Another world. I never believed this might happen. I never saw something like this in Turkey. Or any other place.
LASCARIS: And what have conditions been like generally since then? Where are you currently living?
MAISA: Over there, I sit 20 days or more. I spend- I’ve been helping everyone in translating between people, in food, in medical- so many things. Though it was a jail but I never felt it was like a jail.
LASCARIS: They permitted you to come and go as you pleased?
MAISA: No. They never allowed for going outside but because it was a new experience, it was something new- I was meeting people. I was talking to the volunteers, other people you know. Learning something new. It was fine with me. And like I hoped, I was having faith, if not now, later. Something good will happen. And I- my heart was always satisfied about whatever happened. Though Moria, I know, it’s not a- lately it’s not comparable place. Full of fights, problems. People complaining for many things. Which was food, water- many, many things. But I thank the Greek government for like welcoming the refugees, no matter how- at least they’re helping. And not that much, but at least a little bit, which is too much for us. It meant a lot.
LASCARIS: And do you want to remain here or are you attempting to travel to another country?
MAISA: I’ve been now- it’s been 4 months almost on the island. And like, as I know the Greeks can’t provide us with what we need exactly, like completing our educations. And a proper place to settle as I’m still young in age and I’m unable to look at myself, look after myself from now. It’s very hard to work since, from a young age though, I’m helping. I’m like working as a translator at the moment. But I’m looking forward to going to Europe and completing my education.
LASCARIS: And have the authorities given you any indication whether they’ll permit you to do that?
MAISA: We’ve been interviewed by the Yasso[inaud], one and a half month ago. And they approved our acceptance for asylum over here. And further asking for relocation in Athens, which is after one and a half months in August. And like I’ll be hopefully, they would accept that and we would in a short time, we would reach a good country where we can get settled and see our future.
LASCARIS: Well thank you very much for telling us your story and we wish you the best of good fortune, and future in your travels.
MAISA: I have to thank you for looking towards like, having- coming up over here and asking the refugees, how the situation is going over here because it’s really so tough. And no one really knows what might happen.
LASCARIS: Well it’s important that your stories be heard. Thank you. And this is Dimitri Lascaris for The Real News.
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