Lilian is a friend of mine who works with the Worldwide Tribe. She worked the night shift in Moria two nights ago and posted this in the morning when she finished. I talked to my friend Sadzida (Sa-JEE-da), who spoke to this man in the tent. She’s an Arabic translator from Libya and Bosnia.
The man she spoke to went to the medical tent in Moria with some minor tooth pain, and while he was there began to tell her the story. He tried four times to take a boat to Greece, and on the fifth try he finally made it. Once they were on the water however, the situation became lethal almost at once. The Turkish Police appeared and began deliberately trying to sink the three boats.
“They used knives to cut the boats, and then filled them with water from hoses,” Sadzida told me, relating what the survivor told her, “the men tried to push the boat as fast as it could go,” she made paddling motions with her hands, indicating that they did this manually. “They threw stones at the police to make them go away. Some threw even their phones.”
She specified that it was the Turkish police in uniform sinking the boats, not the smugglers or the Coast Guard.
Two of the three boats went down. Everyone drowned. One boat managed to escape into Greek waters, where it was picked up by the Greek Coast Guard and towed into safe harbor in Mytilene. The survivors were bundled into a UNHCR bus and brought to Moria as usual. “He was afraid to take pictures,” Sadzida said, “he is afraid for his family if he takes a picture and it goes online.”
Sadly, this is a valid concern. Many refugees are camera-shy, and it’s often because they fear for the safety of relatives left back in active war zones. Sometimes association with someone who fled the country is enough to endanger a family back in Syria. Some of the young men are happy to take selfies with volunteers and it’s common to see newly landed groups taking a “we made it!” selfie, but often enough when they see a camera slung around someone’s neck they melt away like fog in the sun.
Far from wanting to disappear, this survivor begged Sadzida in tears to tell his story. “He wanted me to tell everyone,” she said, “he was crying, he didn’t want the ones who were killed to be forgotten.”
Although there are many articles about capsized boats and plenty of statistics on refugee drownings, it’s hard to find anything about deliberate sabotage. Yet we hear firsthand stories from refugees all too often. Unconfirmed rumors have Turkish authorities shooting at boats, rival smugglers slashing each others’ boats, Coast Guard officials watching boats sink without helping, and refugees slashing their own boats in efforts to get rescued by the Greek Coast Guard. We know that refugees almost never have real life jackets, and most of them believe they’re paying for a seaworthy boat right up until they have to get in.
Sometimes it feels like a miracle that anyone makes it across the water at all. Warsan Shire, a Somali-British poet writes in her poem Home, “you have to understand,/that no one puts their children in a boat/unless the water is safer than the land.” They run from horror to horror, and we can only try to help.