NEWS

Dreaming of Europe, Syrians in Turkey undeterred by Aegean tragedy

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Ali, 31, a Syrian seeking to move to Europe, sits in a cafe in the Turkish resort of Bodrum, impatient and angry.

Undeterred by a succession of fatal accidents, he wants to cross the Aegean Sea to EU member Greece in the hope of making it to Britain, or Germany as Berlin takes in more Syrian refugees.

But he can't find the right trafficker to entrust thousands of dollars to – the price of taking him and his family across the Aegean in a flimsy craft to the Greek island of Kos.

“Right now Im trying to find the best smuggler but they are all liars,” said the trained telecommunications engineer from the Syrian town of Hasakah which has been the object of a battle between Kurdish militias and IS jihadists.

“They give you different prices and say nothing is guaranteed,” he complained, adding the smugglers were offering a price of $6,000 for him, his sister and mother.

Bodrum, best known as the queen of upscale Turkish resorts, has this summer become a hub for Syrian refugees from the civil war seeking to take advantage of the calm conditions and make the short but perilous crossing to Kos.

The migrants hanging around in the so-called Syrian quarter of the resort – with shop signs in Arabic and Kurdish – appear unfazed by the risks of the crossing which has claimed dozens of lives this summer.

This is even after the death of a small Syrian refugee boy named Aylan Kurdi, whose tiny body washed up on a beach was captured in a now iconic photo that sparked a wave of horror and shock in Europe.

Indeed, many are aware that the picture swiftly caused huge change in many EU states in the hitherto suspicious attitudes towards refugees.

Even the smallest grocery stores sell life jackets – indispensable equipment should the crossing hit trouble – often at suspiciously low prices.

“I want to escape and never come back home again,” said Ali.

“I know that from now on, we will get more respect in Europe because at least we are given a chance. I was so touched when some people in Europe offered to host us in their houses.”

“I know the journey will be dangerous but Im not afraid of dying. I have a god and if my time has come to die, Ill die.”

There are fewer migrants on the streets of Bodrum than a few weeks ago, with both the migrants and locals saying Turkish security forces were ordering them to stay in hotels.

Some who can't pay for hotels sleep in cardboard boxes or on benches in town parks, eating scraps of food left over from the tourist restaurants.

Another motivation to leave is the situation in Turkey itself, which has hosted 1.8 million Syrian refugees since the start of its civil war in 2011 but is now enduring a bloody crisis of its own.

Ela, 20, a former psychology student in Syria, has been in Bodrum for two weeks with her two sisters who fled with her to Turkey six months ago.

They sleep outside a mosque, which they use for sanitation and to drink water.

“The picture of Aylan is really sad, but I think it will help improve things for us,” she said.

“I don't know how to swim, neither do my sisters, so I am a bit afraid. But it doesn't matter if I die in Syria, in Turkey or in the sea.”

She said staying in Turkey, which has been hailed for its hospitality towards the refugees, was too risky amid signs Ankaras patience was running out.

“We don't know if they are going to shut down the doors in two days or if Turkey will send us back to (refugee) camps.”

By contrast, “European governments are really trying to do something for us and people are showing more sympathy.”

But she said the family didn't have the 7,000 euros ($7,800) the smugglers demanded for taking her, her sisters and their children to Greece.

She recounted how last week the three sisters went to the luxury villa in which Syrian smugglers were staying in Bodrum. A smuggler offered to squeeze them into a boat free of charge in exchange for sex.

Then they decided to buy their own boat, life jackets and try to cross on their own.

“It'll probably happen this week,” she said.

[AFP]