Tags / Smuggler
September 7, 2014
Location: 5 Kilometers west of Ras al-Ain , near al-Azizeya village, Syria
Syrian refugees dodge Turkish Army patrols as they are smuggled from Syria to Turkey. Smuggling has become increasingly difficult as many smugglers are being beaten up or killed by Turkish soldiers. However, there is no other ways to escape Syria, despite the existence of four legal crossings in the area.
- Smuggler as he goes to the border post - shots of “passengers” a term used by the smugglers of refugees and peoples in general - shots of people fleeing after detection by the Turskish border patrol - moving shots of Turkish military vehicle heading to legal border crossing - general views of the border
Interview: Abu Mohamad, Smuggler
"People here want to cross to Turkey. We are in Syria and, as you can see, we have these people who want to get to Turkey. People are dying here, sometimes there is shooting. The road from here is very difficult. On the IS side of the border [Islamic State controlled area], the road is open, but only for Arabs. On the Kurdistan [Syrian-Kurdish controlled] side, the road is blocked by the Kurds.
People here have injured relatives and they are working so hard to be able to afford to eat. Life is very hard here and people are forced to leave. We are trying to smuggle these people into Turkey and it is very hard. A few days ago we smuggled a group of people and they got caught, they started hitting them with the back of the rifle. You cannot pass through legally, so we are trying to smuggle them and people are paying everything they have to pass. What can I tell you, life here is very difficult.
Al-Qamishli passage is closed, Derwaseya passage is closed, Ras al-Ain passage is closed. The other passages in Jarablos and Tel al-Abyad are open, even though they are under the control of ISIS. They closed these passages even though they help our brothers the Kurds.
You just witnessed it, we smuggled people in and they returned them. Every few days you can hear firing and shooting and a few days ago, someone was killed at the border of Turkey. We went today and they started shooting, we go through this on daily basis
The population of Bogovadja has different opinions on the presence of the migrants. Some of them accuse the migrants of small robberies, others see them as an economic source. In the winter of 2014 the citizens, also supported by extreme right wing groups, made a demonstration in Bogovadja to ask for control and safety against the migrants. After some months the citizens have got used to their presence.
The contacts with the taxi drivers who bring the migrants to the Hungarian borders take place at the cafes, one of which is at the begging of the wood and the other at the end of the wood, along the road which passes through the whole country. To reach the Hungarian borders the taxi drivers ask the migrants to pay from 50 to 300 Euros. Many drivers work for the immigration racket, others prefer to work alone with their customers.
During the Ramadan groups of migrants meet in the wood in the evening to share the Iftar, the only allowed meal during the Ramadan. Each migrant shares with the others what he can afford. After the Iftar those who stay at the reception camps go back to the center, the others seek shelter in the wood.
In the evening the migrants who do not stay in the reception camp go back to the wood in Bogovadja. S., a man from Sudan, was sent away from Macedonia, where he lived with his fiancÃ©e, due to legal problems and he is now trying to reach Europe to have a new life and start the legal steps to meet his son.
Afghanistan and Syrian migrants wait for the taxi to go to collect the money from a bank which is at few kilometers from Bogovadja. The day after they will leave for the Hungarian borders with the help of a taxi driver for 50 Euros per person.
The migrants on the Balkan route use the reception camps to rest before continuing their journeys. After signing some documents at the police office they can get a permission lasting for three days; after the three days they can either leave Serbia or ask for political asylum. Some centers offer legal support to start the requests.
Minors and families are admitted in the camp of Bogovadja. If the weather is bad some migrants, who are not accepted in the camp, are allowed to sleep under the portico to protect from the rain.
M., 20 years old, is North African but he declared to the authorities to be Syrian to be accepted by the reception camp and seek shelter in Europe as a refugee of the Syrian civil war.
An Iraqi refugee has been given hospitality by the center of Banja Koviljaca. After staying in the center for some years he applied for the political asylum in Serbia and got it. Anyway, he can neither expatriate nor ask to join his family in Serbia. He is stuck in this bureaucratic limbo and, in the meantime, he helps as cultural mediator the people working in the center.
S., 22 years old, has reached Serbia from Niger after three months and he is now waiting for some friends and relatives to get some money to continue his journey. Many migrants, especially if they are political refugees, fear to be recognized by the police and by the secret services of their origin countries and consequently fear possible retaliations on their families.
In the center of Banja Koviljaca, as in many others reception centers, the migrants can use the internet access and thus maintain the contacts with their friends and their families.
At Banja Koviljaca, at the border between Bosnia, Herzegovina and Serbia, the migrants are received in a center which was opened in 1991 to offer help during the Yugoslavian wars. In 2006 this center was renewed with the help of the UNHCR and of the INTERSOS and can now receive about 85 people.
The camp of Bogovadja accepts minors and families. The migrants who are not accepted by the center report that although there are available rooms the operators refuse to accept them even only to take a shower. The center director says that some rooms are kept free to eventually receive minors or families. The migrants also report that there were some cases of extortion and of request of sexual favors by the operators in exchange for hospitality in the center.
In the poorest neighborhoods, refugees can find a small room for 100/200Tl (40/80$)/month. Sometimes refugees occupy empty houses. Life here is very hard in these situations because the rooms usually do not have heating and running water. The situation is very bad and they wonder why nobody does anything.
The hygienic situation in the poorest buildings is bad. There is no heating or drinkable water. In this building, every family rents a room no larger than 25 square meters and usually has only a small window. The restructuring plan of Erdogan aims to destroy this old building and erect a new one that Syrian refugees could not afford rent.
Often families have been forced to separate due to the war. Many mothers and wives have sons and husbands who fight in a war. Women are often left to take care of the children and fend for themselves while the men remain in Syria. Some of these woman are forced to walk several kilometers everyday to pick up the aid distributed by the associations. Syrian Women in need often complain that after an initial effort on behalf of both the Turkish government and the international associations, they were left to their own devices.
35 year old Mahmoud (not his real name) escaped from Aleppo after being wounded and having surgery on his stomach. He came to live in a room with his family in Istanbul. He cannot work or walk very well.
"We were escaping from Aleppo and a rocket fell close to the car. Splinters exploded and struck me in my stomach and the leg. When I arrived to Turkey, in the center, they fixed my wounds. Thank God I survived, but now the situation is very bad, we are left to ourselves and we don't know what the future holds. I think I want to go back to my country when the war ends, I have my land in Syria. Inshallah."
Children who cannot afford to go to school wander Istanbul's city center seeking handouts or finding illegal jobs where they are exploited. Many children work up to 14 hours per day for little pay.
The situation for Syrians in Turkey is still precarious. Since 2014, several demonstrations against Syrian refugees have taken place. At first welcomed by Erdogan, Syrians were left to their own devises. Those who can, try to immigrate and seek asylum in Europe. However, an increasing number of Syrian refugees are forced to live in limbo while they wait for the war to end and return to their country.
Those who cannot spend too much for the rent share small basements or cellars. Many Syrian refugees cannot work in Turkey because they do not have a residency permit.
Anas, 24 years old, escaped from Aleppo and works as a tailor in Istanbul without any job security. He left his family in Syria and is thinking of going back there to fight against the regime of Bashar al Assad.
A Syrian refugee shows his ID card and describes his arrest and torture at the hands of the Syrian police. On the ID there is a number which indicates which district a person is from. Based on the district, police can often venture a good guess as to a person's religion.
The person in the photo was arrested while coming back from University. According to him, the Police stopped him, checked his ID, and arrested him because he is Sunni. While the uprising in Syria has involved people of all religions and ethnicities, it is largely comprised of Sunni Muslims, who are also Syria's majority population.
Middle class Syrians are able rent a flat for 300/400Tl (125/165$) near the neighborhood affected by the Erdogan's restructuring plan. The plan was set up to re-build some areas of Istanbul. These houses will soon be destroyed to make way for more expensive, modern high rise buildings.
Nahla and her family live in a small house with two bedrooms and a kitchen. There are ten people leaving there with seven children. All of the families fled Damascus. The men of the family work as carpenters or bricklayers to raise the money to pay the rent and food.
Sivan, a 45 year old man from Qamisli, has been in Istanbul with his family for five months and he cannot find a job. He is Syrian-Kurdish and this makes it more difficult to find work in Istanbul. He says he came to Istanbul by bus. Due the fact that he cannot find a job, he is not able to pay his rent. His rent is three months overdue and the the owner of the flat in which he lives in wants to force him out. He does not know where he and his family will do in future.
16 year old Omar is from Hasakeh. He and his family came to Istanbul on foot, helped by a smuggler, after paying 200$ per person.
He does not go to school and works 14 hours per day as a button sewer to raise 150 Tl (65$) per week to help pay the rent of his house.
Farah comes from Damascus and has been in Istanbul for one year. When the war started in Syria she was pregnant. Her husband came to Istanbul and found a job and is able rent a house, which they share with another family. In this neighborhood, far from the touristic center of Istanbul, Turkish people are more polite and help Syrians by giving them food. The Mosque helps refugees by giving them bread and rice.
According to the UNHCR, Syrian children (from 0 to 17 years old) account for about 55% of Syrian refugees in Turkey. Many of them have lived through traumatic events and have witnessed war first hand. Some of them suffer from psychological disorders resulting from what they have witnessed in Syria. Several associations were founded by the Syrian community to try and help Syrian children cope with their trauma, but lack of access to proper care is still a major problem.
One of the first things that the associations try to provide is education. Children in this school continue to study according to the Syrian curriculum. Some books are re-written and passages praising Bashar al Assad are deleted. In this school, Turkish and English are also taught.
A little girl sings a song about war:
"We came to your feast,
Through your celebration we are asking you, why now do we not have any feast?
O World, my land is burned, my free land is stolen. Our sky is dreaming, asking days, where is the beautiful shiny sun?
Where are the pigeons flocks?
My little land, little like me, return peace to it and give us back our childhood,
Give us our childhood,
Give us, give us Peace."
The flag used by the revolutionaries is still hung in all classrooms. Some schools publicly took a stand in support of the Syrian revolution, hanging the flag of the revolution on their walls.
The wall near the Fatih Mosque bears a slogan reading:
"Yesterday Bosnia, today Syria".
The Syrian community seeking shelter in Turkey numbers about 1.5 million people. Syrian refugees try to reestablish their lives in Istanbul, looking to the longterm.
The Syrian community has founded many associations that help Syrian refugees in Istanbul. Near Aksaray, the Syrian Noor Association provides refugees with a doctor and a dentist. Some refugees suffer from post-traumatic Stress disorders, especially young people directly affected by the fighting. However, lack of access to psychological care is still a major problem.
The Syrian Noor Association collects medicine in order to distribute them in the center or to send them every month to Syria. The Turkish Government allows them to do so, but does not help in any way.
Everyday, many refugees come to the center to pick up clothes that the Association and the Mosque have collected for them. Families who flee from Syria usually leave all of their belongings in their homes and arrive in Istanbul with almost nothing.
Refugees come from different social classes. Those who can afford it rent an apartment in Aksaray for 1000Tl ($380) per month and share it with other people. Usually the richer refugees think about escaping to Europe by paying a smuggler, while others decide to stop in Istanbul and invest their money in commercial activities.
After the trip to Istanbul, one of the main problems for Syrian refugees is the language. Some words from the Turkish and Arabic languages are similar, but, due to the nationalism, a dominant characteristic of many Turks, people who speak Arabic are often discriminated.
12 year old Mohammad was found on the streets of Istanbul by the owner of a Syrian restaurant. He and his brother were welcomed by the man, a former computer engineer who escaped the war, and started working as dishwashers in his restaurant. The two boys work 14 hours per day and sleep in a room behind the refrigerator in the kitchen of the restaurant.
Syrian refugees who escape to Istanbul are usually Sunni muslims. Turkey is a predominantly Sunni Muslim country. Politically, Turkey has been traditionally secular. However, the rise of Recip Teyyip Erdogan to power has changed this and Sunni Islam has begun taking a more central role in Turkish social life.
In the beginning, Erdogan helped Syrians in the name of religion and to help generate more votes amongst the Turkish electorate. However, some Syria refugees feel that, while Erdogan is a good muslim man, he does not actually do much to help them.
âThe first time the immigrants arrived in the village we were surprised and worried. I had never seen such black men in all my lifeâ. The inhabitants of the Serbian countries, where the migrants seek shelter, are surprised to see them. At first suspicious and worried, then they realize that the migrants can be an economic resource for their activities. In Belgrade, not far from Obrenovac, where there is one of the biggest reception camps, the atmosphere is tense also due to the presence of extreme right wing and xenophobic groups which act inside the football supporters teams of the capital.