At the beach we spoke a few guys from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Swimming and letting their clothes dry at the beach. “We are ten friends”, they said smiling “and we would like to go to Germany or France.” They had just registered themselves at the police and they will go to Athens later for transfer. Yes, they arrived from Turkey and no, no problems crossing the seven kilometres of water, the first time they already succeeded! Their contact organised their journey and did not go on the rubber boat. He said good bye at the Turkish coast.
“We live in the makeshift shelter, in the vacant hotel.” They pointed towards the unfinished building further inland, I saw the laundry, clothes and towels, drying in the sun. “We paid the human trafficker in Afghanistan.” They looked at each other and back at me: “We are fleeing the Taliban and IS!”
Tourists came our way and gave us the eye. And the refugees? They were clearly still euphoric from the crossing.
At the hotel
The barman talked about it, after we asked. There are so many refugees at this time, because of the war. They come from Syria, via Turkey, here’s a safe crossing. Boats are wrecked, indeed. By who? By the Greek? Then somebody came up and wanted to order a drink. He said “Sorry, I have to go again.” Not very talkative.
Mahmoud from Syria and his brother crossed the sea two times and if he knew it was so dangerous he would had never done it. “No,” he said, “The Coast Guard is only concerned with saving lives, both the Turkish and Greek Coast Guard.” And: “Afghans are very naive, they have no idea what they will do here in Kos and in Europe!” According to him they are less focussed as the Syrians, who apparently know what it means to go to Europe.
Mahmoud sympathizes with the Greeks, their life is very difficult, it is a poor country, banks are closed, how do you get your money? Yet they help the refugees. I give him my business card, contact me when you are in Europe. He wants to make a documentary about the situation in Kos.
It is night, we are checking the beaches at 3 am in the morning. We saw lights at sea, frantically going back and forth. Is it the Coast Guard, is it a trafficker, a small boat? My sons Luc and Daniel saw a rubber boat leaving, packed with refugees earlier that evening. On both sides 5 people peddling against the strong current and heavy wind. I would like to talk to the refugees before they go, so we head out to the beaches next to our hotel. It’s so dark and windy at the shore. Just imagine… seven kilometres of water, children on board. Although the trafficker gives you a life vest, what’s the use, can it hold you? The water is cold, deep, dark. We drive to the parking lot next to a restaurant, there are people there. We approach them and tell them about my interest in refugees. If felt a bit uneasy. How should we behave? But they work there and don’t speak English really well, with Google Translate we manage. I type: Where do the refugees leave? He types: One beach further. We are going there? I type. He types: I do not want to go there – I do not want to die – you do not go. He walks away, avoiding further Google contact.
Then I realise it’s an area with so many contradictions. Police checking the coastline for refugees and the traffickers taking them to the boats. Locals helping refugees and the allegations of illegal Push Back operations by the Turkish and Greek Authorities. In the daytime I am at the beach, clueless like any tourist. In the night time, you are never safe.
Back in the Hotel I hear the story about the friend of the manager, he wanted to help the refugees and organised a boat to take them to Greece. The boat got run over by another boat and his friend drowned. “Did he ask money for it?” Yes he did. 1000 euros per person. The boat was wrecked. “It was the Greek police!” he said. Or is it by a rivalising trafficker? I don’t know but there are some really interesting stories here at the Turkish coast.