Published on 2 Dec 2014 Sections

Mediterranean migrant graveyard: survivors’ stories

In September 500 migrants fleeing wars in Gaza and Syria set sail from Egypt for Europe. The boat was rammed by traffickers and capsized. Only 11 survived. Channel 4 News has spoken to four of them.

Last Saturday night I ran into Shukri, Abdul and Mohammed, writes journalist Janine Louloudi. They were walking under the Acropolis in the always-busy tourist area of Athens, taking pictures on their mobile phones.

Under the cover of the night and the crowds of young people heading to cafes and bars, this was the first time they had left their apartment on their own, to “get some fresh air”, as Mohammed told me by making a choking gesture round his neck.

It’s been two months since I first met the three Palestinian survivors of the deadly shipwreck that took place in early September. In that time they have been afraid of leaving the apartment they reside in because the traffickers are still out there. They continue ringing the survivors up, threatening them to stop talking to the press.

Fearing that the smugglers’ network extends to Athens, but also not knowing the Greek language and feeling afraid of the police who handcuffed them upon arrival in the country, the three men who left Gaza in search of a better future spend their days inside and wait for the Greek authorities to come to a decision regarding their status.

None of them wishes to stay in Greece; all they want is to be allowed to travel to a northern European country. Find a job, start afresh, and try to put the nightmare behind them.

Lost at sea

This is also the case for 19-year-old Doaa from Syria, who saved Masa, a baby of 17 months, by holding onto her in the water for four days. Doaa has found a warmer welcome in Greece, and was even awarded in Crete for her bravery.

It’s in the Cretan city of Chania and a welcoming Arab household that she’ll spend the next few months, while she waits for the Swedish state to respond to her official request to be allowed to live in Sweden with her uncle. For the time being she has no idea what to do if she’s turned down.

At the same time, the Greek judiciary is examining a custody request from the brother of Masa’s father, Mohammed Dasouki. He would like to take his young niece with him to Sweden and reunite her with her eight-year-old sister who had travelled there with him a while ago – the only living member of Masa’s family who wasn’t on the boat that sank. Both Masa’s parents and baby brother didn’t make it.

After many requests, Mr Dasouki has been allowed to pay visits to the now 19-month-old girl at a childcare centre in Athens, hoping the court will soon reach a decision regarding her future.

For all five of the survivors of this shipwreck – as well as the almost 300 homeless Syrian refugees who for more than 10 days have been staging a mass protest in front of the Greek parliament – it feels like staying in Greece is not an option.

What worries them most is becoming “illegals” when their temporary stay permit ends, stripped of rights and identity, unable to get a job, living under the threat of being arrested and deported, lost in a “sea” of thousands of immigrants from war-torn countries that have flooded Greece over the past years.

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Filmed in Greece by Janine Louloudi and Aris Vitalis

Watch the Channel 4 News report at 7pm, on 4, on Tuesday 2 December