Salah, 29 years old, from Aleppo, Syria
“When the army came to recruit us, I refused. The young men who go don’t come back.”
When the revolution started, Salah’s family fled to their ancestral village, a couple of hours outside of Aleppo. However, Salah stayed in Aleppo, to work and support them. He went to visit them as often as he could, but with army checkpoints along the road, the journey became impossibly long. Thus, the family was forcibly separated and only saw each other every 3 or 4 months. But when life in the city became too dangerous, Salah decided to join his family in the village indefinitely, for safety. While he was living there, he got married to Linda.
“We were neighbors in Aleppo when we were children, and she was also from the same village. One day, I heard that she might get engaged to another man, and so I immediately went to her family’s house to ask for her hand. I couldn’t let her marry someone else!”
After their wedding, they lived two months in their village but life was hard, and Salah couldn’t find work to support his family. So they decided to flee to Turkey, where they lived for 8 months. Salah found a job and worked long hours for a very small salary. He switched to another job in the construction field, and was able to afford the rent of a small flat in Istanbul where he lived with Linda. That is where Peria, their daughter, was born.
After the construction job ended, Salah worked for 6 weeks at another job, but never received a dime for his work. “At that time, I hated Turkey. They treated us so bad. I had to sell my wedding ring to pay the rent of our flat. That is when I decided it was time to go to Europe.”
Salah’s family lent him money for the journey, and he managed to find cheap smugglers in Ismir, who told him that he could pay the last 300 euros he owed for the journey later, once they had reached Europe. They attempted the crossing four times. On the first attempt, they were caught by the police and detained. On the second attempt, the rubber boat capsized a few hundred meters from the shore. Salah held his 2 months old daughter, Peria, inside of his life jacket and struggled to swim back to shore with her. After this traumatic episode, Peria fell seriously ill and spent the following month in and out of hospital. “She couldn’t breathe,” says Salah, “I was so scared that I decided to forget this idea of trying to get to Europe”.
Salah tried to find work, and was again robbed of his salary after several weeks of work. “We heard over and over that the borders will close, and so we thought, it will be now or never. We borrowed some money from a friend and tried with a new smuggler.” This time, the smugglers put the women and children in one van, and the men in another. The police stopped and arrested the van with the women and children, and Linda and Peria went to jail for several days.
“On the fourth try, I said to myself, this is it. This is the last time we try. I can’t do this anymore.” But the journey went smoother this time, and in 45 minutes they were all on the Greek Island of Kios.
“We heard that Europeans think we are beggars; but we are forced to look for money and ask for things, because we have lost everything. Here in the camp, we are isolated, the food is not edible and the medical staff is not helping us. When Peria had breathing problems, the Red Cross didn’t take the problem seriously and said she was fine, so we had to take her to hospital at our own costs. In Athens, they kept her in the children’s hospital for 4 days. We don’t have enough money to survive here.”
Salah has tried to plant some vegetables and herbs next to his tent, in an effort to improve his family’s living conditions and food supply - but for the moment, nothing has grown.
“It is difficult to imagine that in Europe, in the 21st Century, it is possible to put human beings in tents without the possibility of leaving. I am sure most zoos in Europe are better taken care of than this camp. This place is not humane. We are just looking for a safe and decent place to live.”
“The only thing that makes me smile these days is my daughter, Peria. Her name means ‘angel’ in Kurdish. I only hope that she can grow up in a peaceful place, free from danger.”
Photos: Shayanne Gal / Story: Voices of Refugees