#5YearsWeFled: All I Want is to be Safe

This series is from interviews with the lawyer Ayman Jalwan. It highlights the difficult choice that Syrians face—dying in the war zone that Syria had become, or flee the land he loved. Last year, he and his wife said goodbye to their families and joined the wave of citizens leaving the country. First they had to make it to Turkey. Then they needed to cross the cold Mediterranean to Greece. After that, they would have to deal with human traffickers in Eastern Europe to reach one of the few nations willing to welcome them: Germany. In this blogs series, Ayman Jalwan explains the decision to leave, the trials he and his wife encountered along the way, and the consequences of their decision.

When we get to the last part of the crossing from Izmir to Greece, there are some serious disagreements on board. We were told to steer the boat in the direction of the lights, but I can see streets in Greece already, well before the lights the man on the beach had talked about. I can see cars, I can see land. So why did he tell us we have to go way over where the lights are? We had been told that there is a military port there, near those lights. But I am thinking, why go there? What I can see is much closer. All of us on board argue about what to do.

Some people want to follow the original instructions to go to the lights, but I tell them no, it is very far away, we can land the boat much sooner. They say no, you have no idea of what you are talking about. I say no, I can see where we can land! I know I have glasses on, but I can see better than you! At this point the captain does not know who to listen to. There is some more fighting, but then he steers the boat to where I am suggesting, and in the end, the others support me.

From the boat I can see streets, several villas, and gardens. In places there are stairs leading up from the sea. I see this, but we are afraid there may be something in the water to keep us away, like metal nets or defenses. We were warned about this, because there is a military port nearby. So we are afraid this may be the case. And our boat is not made to withstand things like this. We are worried about the waves, too. With each big wave, you think, this is the wave that is going to take your life! We look at the waves coming at us. Our captain turns off the motor so we can float – we don’t want to go against the waves. We just want to let them take us in. I said to the others, if anything goes wrong, it’s so close, we can swim. So they told me, ok, no problem. We’ll take the risk and go closer to land.

This is the difficult part, because you are worried about what might be under the water to try to stop you from landing. But thank God, there is nothing there, and the landing is easy, like parking a car. Originally we were heading towards a villa or farmhouse, but the waves took us to another place to land. There were a lot of stones and no lights. It was empty: just mountains and beach. We were a lucky group from the very beginning. We take the stairs up from the beach, and suddenly we are in Europe. My wife starts to cry. I ask her, why are you crying? Now we are in Europe! This is Europe! We have just crossed from Asia to Europe. That’s it! We have made it to Mytilene, on the island of Lesbos.

As we leave our landing spot, we see Greek people coming to meet us. They say, you need this boat? We said, no, no, no, take the boat! Take the motor, take everything, it’s a gift from us! Go ahead! They say, welcome to Greece! We say, thank you! Then a big vehicle races up to us, and two girls and man get out—volunteers. Many people from aid organizations watch the coast, and they are ready at a moment’s notice to help anyone who is making the crossing. They gave us water and food. I told them, we want to go to the police. We were told before we made the trip, when you arrive in Greece, go to the police. They will take you to a place where you will be given special papers so you can take a ferry on to Athens. But you can’t board these boats without papers from the Greek authorities.

They said, no, we can’t take you because it is very dangerous—we can’t take any refugees in our cars. If the police catch us, it is a big problem. They told us we would be walking now for about two hours to the nearest police station. This may sound bad to you, but we are happy! Really, believe me! Now I see my journey as easy—it’s just walking! And it’s no problem if the police catch you. I hope the police catch us, because they will take me to the right place. What should I be afraid of?

We can’t believe we are finally in Europe. Not everyone has the same problem as me—the need to avoid military service in Syria, because of the sure death it would mean. But now, simply by having arrived in Greece, I’m safe. Of course you could say we would have been safe in Turkey, too. But there, you never know. If the politics change, maybe everything else changes, too. For example, if Prime Minister Erdogan’s party loses the elections, everything changes. The party now in power in Turkey supports the refugees from Syria. But what happens if at some point they lose the elections? You can’t trust what may happen in Turkey. It’s like Egypt or Syria in that way.

But just by being in Europe, you have rights. No matter how you stand politically, whether you are a friend or an enemy of those in power, you have rights as a human.  No matter where are you come from. In Europe, people don’t have to worry about having these basic rights. They may be concerned about improving their economic situation, about completing their studies, about many things—but not that. And for me, this is enough. All I want is to be safe. 

Ayman Jalwan, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, is a Syrian lawyer now living in Germany as a refugee. Interviews conducted by Claudine Weber-Hof.

Read part 1 of the series.
Read part 2 of the series.
Read part 3 of the series.
Read part 4 of the series.
Read part 5 of the series.
Read part 6 of the series.

Read part 7 of the series.

Image: Photo: Fotomovimiento. Volunteers help Syrian refugees on to the island of Lesbos.November 14, 2015.