“Yes, I speak English”. B. is 33 years old, he wears a red jumper, a nice pair of jeans, and good shoes. B. is not the « usual » guest that the AQUARIUS has seen on board since the beginning of the mission in February 2016. Actually, B. and his wife and their 9-month old baby didn’t really need any item of the rescue kit we were handing out to our guests. They have warm clothes and even their passports, a purse and phones.
B. is Syrian. Together with his wife and baby, he was rescued off the Libyan shores on Monday 28 November by the Italian Navy Ship “Nave Grecale” and then transferred to the AQUARIUS a few hours later. It is not the first time that the AQUARIUS welcomes Syrians on board, but it is the first time that it is a larger group, 24 to be exact.
There is a stark contrast. Syrians refugees want to smoke, they ask for the Wi-Fi password, they pretend to have a proper meal, their kids play with smartphones whereas sub-Saharans usually arrive barefoot on the AQUARIUS, without any belongings and haven written important phone numbers on their t-shirts. But Syrians are not sent to the open sea on overcrowded rubber boats.
“Our boat was good, it was seven-meters, we were all wearing life jackets. On that boat we were 31 persons, all Syrians and Palestinians. Yes, 17 adults and 14 children” B. says. Standing next to him, his wife nods. She is holding their daughter in her arms. Her name, Kulizar, means “Yellow flower”.
When B. fled from Syria in 2011, he was still single. He used to live in a village close to Aleppo. “Now my entire family has fled to Turkey, our village in Syria is in the hands of ISIS”. “I fled because I didn’t want to join the army, I cannot shoot at people, I don’t want to be involved in that, I cannot even shoot at a bird”.
So B. summarises his journey, flipping the pages of his Syrian passport. He left Syria on in December 2011 to Jordan. From Jordan he drove the whole night to Egypt, where he entered one day later. But his destination was Libya. In January 2012 he arrived in Tripoli, ready to start a new life.
B. spent four years in Libya, working, as a driver and a Turkish-Arabic interpreter. His grandfather was Turkish, and B. still has strong ties to Turkey and was at one point considering to leave the unstable and dangerous Libya to find asylum in Turkey. But then he met his wife, “my love” he says with sparkling eyes. In March of this year, their baby girl was born in Misrata, Libya. After a while they decided to leave the country, because of the increasing violence between different militias. “There are militias, there is no police, no army, you never know who is pointing a gun at your head. If you’re not Libyan, you cannot live in peace in Libya,” he says. “We couldn’t stay in Libya, it is becoming too dangerous. Everybody has a gun there – youngsters and adults – they all have guns. If they want some money, or anything from you, they just point the gun at you and threaten to kill you.”
“I dream of a good life for my child. She was born in Misrata, but she has a Syrian passport. First I wanted to go to Turkey, but we did not manage to get a visa for my wife, as she is Moroccan. So, two weeks ago, after talking with some friends, I decided to come to Europe”. B. wants to go to Germany or Holland, where he has friends. He paid 2.000 dollars for the whole family to get on that small boat with other Syrians and Palestinians, regardless of the risks of a deadly crossing in the Mediterranean Sea for his baby, his love, and himself.
Interview & text: Mathilde Auvillain
Photos: Mathilde Auvillain and Laurin Schmid