So one would like to believe.
Met a man from Deir al-Zor in Athens the other day. He has his entire (surviving) family in Turkey. Istanbul he said. But his Istanbul is about four hours journey from the edge of my network. Though he didn’t ask for help.
He’s been stranded in Athens for twenty-one months. Now he waits to hear what European country he will be relocated to for resettlement. And it could be any, France, Spain, The Netherlands, Germany — he doesn’t know. It is chosen by lottery so actually no one knows — thus he didn’t start to learn Greek and he doesn’t know what language to start on. He feels a lot of anxiety about it, a lot of uncertainty.
“ISIS has a lot of money,” was his opinion. “If I was with ISIS I would already be in Belgium or France or London, because they have money. They don’t have any cars [just any old cars he means], they have all these new nice Toyotas, all the same. They have lots of money. If I had 6,000 Euro I could go to the UK right now. But I don’t. So why would I wait for so long? If they think I am maybe with ISIS I think this is the stupidest thing.”
I didn’t ask if the 6,000 Euro to the UK was the going rate from Athens these days with the smugglers. The price of smuggling has gone up and down. I know some Syrians who paid fortunes to get from Syria to Turkey and some who paid 5,000 Euro to get from Turkey to Europe. Now I have contacts who are being offered passage to Greece from Turkey for ‘only’ 700 Euro. The fall in price accounts for the fact they won’t be able to get anywhere after landing in Greece. In fact, they won’t even be able to get off the small island where they’ve made landing, be it Kos, Lesvos, or elsewhere, for a long time. More on that in future posts.
“ISIS wouldn’t let you wear blue jeans,” he continued. “They wouldn’t let you smoke. And this,” he ran his fingers over his beard, professionally trimmed, “you couldn’t do — you had to let it grow. If they caught you smoking they would send you to fight for them.”
He had been through a lot. His father was killed in the beginning, in crossfire between Assad’s forces and the FSA. His village, just outside Deir al-Zor, was close to an important airfield. Too close. Then he and his family fled to Raqqa — not the most prescient of choices. Then to Aleppo. Then to Turkey. Now he is waiting in Athens.
“The Greeks are really friendly,” he offered without prompting. “Very welcoming. They have some problems here [with the economy] but are friendly people.” With just a few phrases in Arabic I got a smile out of him. Motivation to learn more.
“I was in the squat for eight months,” he said. It was like for animals he said, he never wants to go back to that life again.