Aramean (Syriac) Refugees from Syria in Turkey: A Case Study of Refugees in Need in Izmir (13 September 2012)

Aramean (Syriac) Refugees from Syria in Turkey: A Case Study of Refugees in Need in Izmir

There are almost 30 Aramean (Syriac) refugees from Syria in Izmir, Turkey. They all come from Qabre Hewore (Aramaic for “White Graves”). One of their relatives in Belgium called the WCA. We took the number of one young man called Aram Shafiro (23), and below is his story. It shows they are stuck in Turkey and human traffickers are, again, exploiting the Syria crisis.

The reasons why my three sisters (22, 20, 18) and I have fled from Syria are twofold. First, there have occurred many frightening things in Syria and the economy had also collapsed. There was no chance to find any job anymore, so we escaped in order to survive. The second reason is that most of our family lives in Europe. Fifteen years ago, my paternal uncle was the last person who left to Europe. If we had wanted to go with him, we could have joined or followed him, yet we wished to stay home.

I can’t call people in Qamishlo, the lines seem to be dead. But last week I heard that if a young man is spot on the streets, he is being forced to serve in the army – either the regular army or the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Both sides need as many fighters as they can recruit, so every young man they see on the street is kidnapped during daylight. Sometimes they are literally being dragged from their houses and taken away. That’s why many young men falsify documents to show that they are still studying, so that they are exempted from the regular army but not the FSA. Those young men who had already finished their military service are mobilized again. Those who have not served in the army yet, even teenagers, are being called to serve in the army. That’s why in many districts of Qamishlo one can only see the women, children and old men; all the youth have been taken away or have escaped elsewhere in the country or they simply left the country. Our people are captured by fear and anxiety these days.

In August of last year, my sisters and I had already attempted to escape our village of Qabre Hewore. We first walked to Nüsaybin, the Turkish border city with Qamishlo. From there someone picked us up by car brought us to Izmir. From there we continued to Istanbul where we stayed two days. We were told to fly to Europe, but instead the man made us and a group of circa 35 non-Arameans walk to Greece. We went through water and even had to spend the night somewhere. But the man had left us suddenly there at the Greek border! He took a lot of money from the others whom he swindled, maybe a total sum of 15,000 euro. I refused to pay him until we would have arrived to our final destination.

Without informing us, suddenly he left us behind at an unknown place. I didn’t know what to do and surrendered myself at a local police station. I could not say, of course, that I was a refugee from Syria. All I said was that I wanted to go to Adana, but that the driver threatened and robbed us, and then left us behind. Nevertheless, we stayed for 10 days in prison and our passports were stamped so that we could not enter Turkey anymore for two years.

Now we are hiding in Izmir. I am here with my three sisters. We arrived here five weeks ago, on the eight (8th) of August, and were the first Arameans (Syriacs) to arrive here. A week or ten days later, some thirty other Arameans (Syriacs) from our village of Qabre Hewore joined us here. The entire group consists of five Aramean families with their children (circa 20 persons), five young men, and me and my three sisters. I have a lot of friends among them. All of them, except for myself and two of my sisters, have their passports with them so we are illegal here.

We stay at a place [the WCA can’t reveal the location] and the owner is aware of us being illegally here, probably because he is also involved in this business. He is friends with the Kurdish human trafficker who got us here. When the police recently came to inspect our place, we had to hide elsewhere for two days. It is mostly Kurds who are the door for our people to escape Syria, and they ask a lot of money.

We have paid 700 EUR per person to leave Syria and arrive here. In total, I have paid 2.800 EUR to get here. But now we are stuck here and must pay a huge amount of money to get out of there. These are the options we have to leave Turkey to a European country:

A) Walking: I have no idea what it costs to walk to Greece or elsewhere.
B) Water: traveling by water to Italy costs 6.000 euro per person;
C) Car: being transported by automobile to Bulgaria and Austria costs 7.000 euro per person;
D) Plane: by plane, via Istanbul, probably costs circa 8.500 euro per person.

I can never pay 30.000 euro for me and my sisters to get out of Turkey, so we are stuck here. I know that some people borrow money from their family in Europe or their relatives in Europe borrow the necessary money to get them here. After people (usually the children are sent there first) have confirmed their arrival in Europe, the money is paid to the trafficker.

I am too afraid to walk or travel by water. I cannot take upon myself such a risky responsibility for my three sisters. We have heard that people who go walking will risk to be robbed and you never know, girls may be kidnapped or sexually abused. And we have heard the news about the sinking boat the other day. In this incident many people have been drowned. So water is no option either.

We all paid our money to an Aramean man from our village who is responsible for all of us. So, the Aramean man gives it to a Kurdish man who has arranged our escape from Syria. If he does not pay our money to the Kurd, he or his relatives probably will be killed. Because we paid him money, they are still responsible for us here and we can stay here until we reach our European destination. We pay the food from our own pockets, however, and eat bread every day. Thank God we are not starving or suffering from inhuman conditions here, but life here is very expensive for us compared to Syria and we are running out of money. Because families lose more and more money, many of them also lose their patience and hope, so they try anything that is in their power just to leave to Europe.

The family of the Kurdish man is also here. His mother, wife, children and two brothers are here. He is from Shaluniye in Syria where he still is; apparently to work as a human trafficker, together with a Kurdish colleague from ‘Amud. The Kurd has other people here too and knows the owner of the hotel. Considering that the wife and children of the Aramean are here too, he will not endanger the lives of him and his family.

Yesterday, two young men left to Istanbul where an uncle of them lives. They hope to continue to Bulgaria. Five others have left today also by flight to a country, probably again to Bulgaria. Every day I am trying my best to find ways to get out of this country. We all want to leave as soon as possible and the human traffickers know this. Almost every day they come to us, because they want to get rid of us, and they tell us that we should take one of the options, or even walk or travel by car. They say that we may face a few minor issues, but the reality is that we will face real issues and can be imprisoned.

Those who have their passports with them are offered a false visa, even if the human traffickers tell us that they are authentic visas. Usually, people are being arrested before they have even entered the plane. Only one or two out of hundred persons is not being caught. Unfortunately, a sister and myself don’t have passports with us and we are illegal in the country.

If all of us would consider traveling to Tur-‘Abdin as a serious option, if you could try to arrange that we can go and live there safely? Frankly, everyone could travel there in the first place from Syria, but nobody wanted to go there. Only a few who are here and have no money left intend to go there temporarily in order to earn money and then move to Europe. Everyone wants to flee to Europe, because the majority of our relatives live there. For example, my grandparents, five uncles and three aunts live there. Only my parents, a brother and a sister have left behind in Syria. We have no idea how our future will look like, but the future of our country looks very dim. We just try our best to get out of this country as soon as we get the chance and every day we pray for our family and people who still struggle for survival amid the turmoil of Syria.




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