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Syrians rescued from drowning; fleeced by police

Refugees who survived drowning last month say they fear they will be imprisoned in Greece

The survivors of a drowning disaster that cost 12 Syrian refugees their lives last month speak about how police confiscated whatever money they had and how they are living in fear in Greece

Some of the survivors of the drowning tragedy that claimed the lives of 12 Syrians fleeing war (Photo by Orestis Seferoglou, Eleftheroypia) Some of the survivors of the drowning tragedy that claimed the lives of 12 Syrians fleeing war (Photo by Orestis Seferoglou, Eleftheroypia) A group of Syrian refugees who survived last month's drowning tragedy off western Greece in which 12 of their compatriots drowned when the crowded boat they were on capsized have spoken to Eleftherotypia about their ordeal and how they were subsequently stripped of whatever money and valuables they had by the police and coastguard.

Among the victims of the disaster on November 15 were four young children, who with their father were fleeing the war in Syria which claimed the life of their mother. The survivors say that the corpses of the drowning victims are still being held at the hospital on Lefkada, near to where the ship capsized.

"We are appealing to the Greeks to facilitate the transfer of their bodies for burial in their homeland. And we also call for the release from Korydallos prison of one of us who has been accused of being a human trafficker. The trafficker never got onto the boat," says one of the survivors.

"We're asking not to be put in prison. We're afraid to leave the house. This is worse than Syria …"

They frisked me. In front of the doctors, they took my papers, money and mobile phone. I had €435. The other two had €200 and €250. They never gave us back the money. And they held onto an expensive mobile.

All the men come from the city of Aleppo. Jema Ibo is a taxi driver and the father of four children. "In Syria nothing has been left standing. I left six months ago in order to reach England for work," he says.

"I stayed for three and a half months in Turkey. In a campsite without food. I came to Greece in an inflatable boat. I thought I stepped foot in Europe. It has cost me €4,500. I stayed with people I knew for two and a half months in Greece and looked for work. But even Syrians who had been here for ten years are unemployed."

So he decided to leave. He heard that someone can take you to Italy.

"When we arrive in Italy, we will pay €2,500 each. There were 27 of us. They put us in buses. One on each coach.

"We arrived in a city whose name we didn't know. From there, we were taken by a van. There were 5-6 runs. We arrived at a coast surrounded by cliffs. There didn't seem to be anyone living nearby. There were no waves. We got straight into the plastic boat. It had a small room that was packed. Two or three of us tried to squeeze in but we didn't manage to. The boat capsized with the weight. We didn't know how to swim ..."

He says everyone tried to help each other. That way, they managed to hold onto the rocks.

"It was dark. It was 5.30 in the morning. Five or six cars passed but but none of them stopped. The next one was a police patrol car. We shouted. For them to help the people who were drowning. A half an hour passed. After about an hour and a half, the coastguard and police came. And they began to pull dead bodies. There's was another victim whose body was never found ..."

Jema says they were then taken to hospital: "They frisked me. In front of the doctors, they took my papers, money and mobile phone. I had €435. The other two had €200 and €250. They never gave us back the money. And they held onto an expensive mobile."

Another survivor, Sepchi Galo, says they "took €915" off me. He talks about "Halil Alhalil", who is accused of being the trafficker.

"Together we entered Greece, through Mytilini. He has a slipped disk, with a metal rod in his leg," he says.

Adip Siso, 40, says that he is the father of three children: "I have a shop selling electrical goods. I lived well. The market collapsed. When I walked around, I saw dead bodies and bombed houses. I wanted to reach Sweden, to apply for family reunification. To bring my children."

Hairi Nasan, 25, says he was a tailor. "Assad's police were after me because I didn't want to to fight [in the war]. In order to survive, I had to support one of the two sides."

He remembers the moment that the "boat rolled over and emptied its fuel on us. We were stepping over each other."

"I took in water. I thought I was going to die. I don't know how I escaped. I don't know how to swim. My cousin, Alidin, left because he wanted to escape the war. He drowned."

"The police took €200 from me."

He says that his dream is to "get a job. To have a bed and a plate of food."

Adip Siso says that he now wants to "to return to Syria".

Upon reaching Mytilini, on July 22, I didn't eat for three days. They put us in tents. A woman brought food. The police shared it among themselves. I had money but I slept on the street. The hotels wouldn't accept me

"In Europe, things are worse for us. Get in the boat and you'll understand. I would prefer to die next to my children. I'm waiting fror Halil to be released from prison. We'll go back together [to Syria]."

He remembers that upon "reaching Mytilini, on July 22, I didn't eat for three days. They put us in tents. A woman brought food. The police shared it among themselves. I had money but I slept on the street. The hotels wouldn't accept me."

"So I decided to get on the boat. I had to crouch to fit in the little room. The boat capsized. I tried to help others, but I couldn't. I fell into the water. I was rescued from the rocks ... ".

"At that moment, I thought of my children: Jema (9), Raman (7) and Isan (5). Once they brought out the first victim, I tried to give him artificial respiration. He was dead."

Sepri Kalo, 27, has been in Greece for two months: "We arrived from the sea. We were found by coastguard commandos. They got on [the boat], and said 'heads down'. Whoever raised their heads were beaten."

Eight hours at sea

In their interview, the Syrians described how they were pushed back by the Greek authorities into Turkish waters, an illegal practice which has been condemned by human rights organisations

"We took whatever we were carrying on us. Cards and money. They put us on a boat without an engine. They left us for eight hours in the open sea. After they tied our boat to theirs, they took us towards Turkey. They cut the rope and abandoned us.

"The Turkish police took us towards Izmir. I returned to Samos. Right now, I only only the clothes on my back. Some Syrians gave them to me."

Jema produces a document issued by Samos security police. It states that the "expulsion order" has been suspended "for a period of six months".

He says that "everyday we are been taken into police stations".

"The Syrians [in Greece] are afraid to put us up, [afraid] to be arrested. They are right. We live in fear of being taken to prison. At least we should get back the money that was taken from us by the police in Lefkada.

- "Have you asked for it?"

- "Of course. They said that it [the money] had fallen into the sea. And that we should go to Piraeus port to find it."


* The original Greek version of this article appeared in the print edition of Eleftherotypia on December 1

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