For the past ten days I have been waiting for news from Mohammad. Like me he comes from Aleppo but for the past 6 years he has been with his mother and brother living in Istanbul. Mohammad is 18 years old.
We became friends through Facebook where he saw that I was involved with many refugees in Athens and in Samos. He had read my story in the Samos Chronicles. As a young gay man he turned to me for advice and help which I was happy to give. Over the past six months we have talked a lot and a good friendship has developed. I know that he trusts me.
For Mohammad his determination to leave Turkey and to seek a life in Europe was decided when his bosses refused to pay him. After three months of working in factory manufacturing textiles he went to his boss and asked to be paid. They refused. Even after much pleading they still refused and told him to go. They would never pay him and if he didn’t like it he should go to the police. This is what he did. But the police told him that without papers they could and would do nothing. Mohammad again pressed them, asking them to go to the factory where they could meet the people he worked alongside who could tell the police how he had worked there for three months. But they took no notice. They did nothing.
For Mohammad this was the final straw. He would leave Turkey and come to Greece. As he told me he wanted to be a human being with rights. He would no longer be a slave or be treated as garbage. We started to discuss options. I told him that he should come as quickly as possible to Athens and together we could sort out the next steps. I thought the fastest way would be to come through Evros in the north of Greece and then travel down to Athens where I was ready to care for him. But he was shy about this idea. He only had 400 euros. He did not want to be a burden on me. So he decided that the best way for him was to go down to Izmir and find a smuggler to get him to one of the Greek islands. He told me that by going to the islands first he would at least get some help with accommodation and food.
These were tense days for me waiting to know what was happening to Mohammad. For over a week I heard nothing from him. Then came his call. He was not in Greece but in Idlib province in Syria. I was completely shocked. As for Mohammad he was crying and crying. Very very upset.
In Izmir he had found a smuggler to take him for 400 euros. But they had not long left the shore when they were caught by the Turkish coastguard who returned them to Izmir. Then he was in the prison for 6 days. The police then came and handcuffed all the people he had been travelling with and loaded them onto a bus. Of course, he said, people were asking their guards what is happening, where are you taking us. But their only reply was a beating. “So we were silenced and scared. After many hours we were eventually put into cars, still handcuffed. The next thing we knew they were releasing us not far from a small town. Then they told us we were free to go and that we were now inside Idlib province in Syria”.
At no point did they meet anyone who could help . No lawyers came to the prison. The police took their Turkish papers and destroyed them. “One of the young guys with us kept pleading with the police to let him go back to his elderly mother. But all he got was a beating. I was very frightened”.
Mohammad is devastated to find himself in this position. He is back in Syria but in an area where war still rages; where the Free Army and Daesh roam the streets and which is simply not safe.
As he had no family nor friends in this province it was the solidarity from those he travelled with that found him a place in a family home. There is not much space but at least he feels safe for the moment. He hopes to find a smuggler who can take him back to Turkey. But I am afraid for him as the border is now harder to cross and the Turkish border guards are shooting and killing those trying to cross. I have heard many stories about this bad situation around the Turkish border near Idlib but this is the first time I have heard about refugees who are trying to cross to the Greek islands being returned to Syria in this way.
Now all I can do is to wait for news from Mohammad. I write his story because I want his situation known. What has happened to him is wrong and I am sure it is not legal under international law. I know that Turkey is unlikely to be punished. But as a refugee I know that many of us only survive because we help one another and get the best help from those so called ordinary people in the streets who we meet as try to get to a safe place. These are the people I want to reach out to. Not governments.