The following story is based on a web blog from VOA’s Heather Murdock in Greece.
The first picture message was sent on social media at 3:51 in the morning. It appeared on the messaging software WhatsApp.
The picture showed a group of eight men with wet clothes on a dark beach. The night before, the men had left with backpacks and life jackets on a dangerous trip: They planned to be smuggled from Turkey to Greece by rubber boat.
The eight men hardly knew each other before deciding to travel together. Omar and Monaf are two college students. They were the youngest in the group. They smiled and stuck out their chests, pleased to be making the trip.
The International Organization for Migration says nearly 3,000 people have died while trying to reach Europe this year. Thousands have drowned. Smugglers or others have taken the life’s savings of migrants, leaving them trapped in war zones with no money.
The eight men who made the crossing in a small boat were lucky. The group had survived years of war, escaped from Syria and had spent days planning. The men had slept in the street the night before. They were about to attempt the trip from Greece to Germany, where they hope to find a future.
On arriving, they sent a text message. It said, “We made it.”
All full at the hotel
A commercial ferry ride from Greece to Turkey cost the VOA reporter $20. Each of the men had paid smugglers $1,200 to travel between the two countries. The men walked for two and a half hours from the coast to the town of Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesbos. Mobile phones with global positioning system links are very important for the refugees.
“The city is not safe and the hotels are all full,” said a taxi driver outside the customs office. He motioned with his hands at the refugees, some with plastic tents. “These people,” he said, with exasperation.
The streets of Mytilene were crowded with refugees. Arabic was the only language heard in the town.
The first hotel was only minutes from the port. Two young men entered wearing backpacks.
“All full?” the men said in English.
“Full,” the hotel employee said.
When it was her turn to help the next person, our reporter (Heather Murdock) told her: “I know you are full, but ..."
She interrupted. “You need a room? I have a balcony room with a sea view. It is 72 Euros.” The reporter felt uneasy, but took the room.
Trying to move on to the next border
One of the eight men, Modar, formerly worked as an iPhone repairman. Now, he is a refugee. On WhatsApp, he reported that the men were sitting in an outdoor ice cream parlor.
The group, now larger, had just finished their coffees and waters. Omar was sleeping in a chair. Other men excitedly told their stories.
After driving four hours, carefully avoiding the police, they had walked through the woods for an hour in the darkness. Smugglers hurriedly gave directions to the 32 passengers in English. They repeated, “Go, go, go!” at every new phase of the trip.
Modar said that one of the smugglers was a blonde Turkish woman about 30 years old.
When the men arrived on the island, they saw four people sleeping near the water. Even 8-year-old Mohammed knew why they were there. “Their smuggler had stolen their money from them,” he later said.
“Go, go, go,” the smugglers repeated, pushing the group into the boat and ignoring the four sleepers.
The sea was smooth and the trip short -- only an hour and a half on the water. If the men were frightened, they would not admit it. On the road from Syria to Europe, fear is dismissed as something only for the weak. And after more than four years of living out a humanitarian disaster, many people say they are too numb to feel much of anything.
Now that they had finally arrived in Greece, they were in a hurry to get to the next border. Everyone knows Hungary is passing new anti-immigration laws and building a wall. They wanted to get in and out of the country while it is still possible. They said they have come so far, the idea of failing in Hungary is unbearable.
“Hungary is hard,” said Omar, now awake, placing his forehead into his hands.
Heather Murdock reported this story. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
smuggle – v. to bring someone or something from one country to another illegally or secretly
smuggler – n. someone who smuggles
exasperation – n. the state of being very annoyed or upset
interrupted – v. to speak while another person is speaking; to do or say something that causes someone to stop speaking
phase – n. a part or step in a process; one part in a series of related events or actions
numb – adj. unable to think, feel or react normally because of shock or long-term exposure to something
unbearable – adj. too extreme or bad to be accepted