“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out true meaning of it is creed”.
Dr. Martin Luther King.
“Me too, Dilovan, I have the dream that one day we can live in peace in my country, Syria, the country that we have lost.
Because of a war we do not understand, everyday there are thousands of deaths, no food, no water, no electricity and absolutely no work. I have a bride to take care of and a younger brother. We have Isis on one side, the kurdish army on the other and the sirian state with Bashar Al Assad as the third part, all asking to join in and fight with them. I didn’t like the idea of staying in my city waiting for an Isis raid: it would have been risky especially for my wife, who could have been kidnapped and who knows what else. So, like millions of Syrians who are on my same journey, I decided to try to get to my parents in Hannover. But as I am too old for the German rules to ask for a family reunion and safely travel by plane, I saw no other possibile choice but leaving my home behind me and start to walk my route to Europe.
Here is how my journey started.
In 2016, exactly on February 17th, I left my home city Al-Hassakeh, my relatives, my friends, my studies, and my childhood memories, heading to Ad-Darbasiyah a small Syrian city on the border between Syria and Turkey, with my bride Avin 21 years old and my younger brother Hussein, also 21 years old.
We stayed in Ad-Darbasiyah at some relatives house for 20 days while trying to cross the Turkish border through – the only way possible – a smuggler, but we didn’t manage. I remember that February 26th, 2016 was our first attempt to cross the border but we were caught by the Turkish Army and were brutally beaten. This affected my eyes and my abdominal area.
6th March, 2016, was our second attempt to cross the border via Syrian – Iraqi border through Al-Malikiyah another small Syrian city, again through a smuggler, who asked for 750 $ each, for a total of 2250 $.
Finally we crossed the border and reached Duhok, in the Kurdistan-Iraq Region, there when the smuggler cheat us and ask for more money or call police to back us. The next day we traveled to the Turkish-Iraqi border, after paying another 900$ to a smuggler. We succeeded to go through easily this time, again smuggler cheat and ask for more 100$ that we pay, but upon our arrival we were caught by the Turkish Army who kept us in Derecik Turkish city in the border with Kurdistan- Iraq in a secured building for two weeks, “while checking our identities”.
It was not a pleasant place, at all. The building was of 3 floors, with small tiny rooms, that accommodated 30 people each, all from different nationalities.
Turkish Army took us to Shemdinli city wich we stay with 2000 refugee in basket ball filed for one day, finally On March 21st Turkish army took us to Van city, and left us there. We decided to travel to Mardin, where we had some relatives: we stayed 5 days with them. Then we took a bus to Istanbul, where again we dealt with another smuggler, who asked us 550$ each, for a total of 1650$, to take us to Izmir, on the turkish coast. There we were taken on a 6 × 1.5 meters inflatable boat ride, along with another 50 people, on the attempt to cross the Turkish-Greek border: But but we were caught on the sea by the Turkish coastguard, and returned to Izmir. That same night at 3:30a.m, (28/3/2016), we tried to cross the border again and we were lucky enough to reach Greece at Chios Island.
We stayed in the island for 10 days. Then one day the police came and called for everyone from Syria to gather: they told us we could move to a smaller camp, on the island of Leros. Life in Chios camp wasn’t very decent: we were up to 6 families in each container, not much running water, no possibilities to have clean clothes. So we decided to move on and left for Leros.
The Leros camp was closed by gates, surrounded by police and barbed wires: we stayed there for 4 months. The conditions of living in the camp were very difficult: we had no information, nothing to do but queuing for food, waiting for help we had no ideas of anything. Again we were lucky enough to escape to the capital of Greece, Athens, but we had with no official documents certifying we were refugees from Syria (although we have syrian identity cards), so no camp received us.
In Athens, we are staying in a squat, together with other refugees from Syria,
Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries. After staying for 3 week in the squat, we headed to Thessaloniki to try cross the border with Macedonia dealing with a smuggler who took us with another group of refugees for 3 days: our journey was a long walk under the rain, with no food and no water.
The Macedonian police caught us and we were taken back to the Greek side of the border.
I guess we were all stubborn and determined to try again. I must say that it was not easy for us to cross the border for the second time. We managed to ride a small vehicle but unfortunately we had road accident: the police caught us once again and put us in jail in Skopje, Gazi baba jail in the capital of Macedonia. I was kept with my brother in a men’s custody, and separated from my wife for 40 days. The jail was in bad conditions, the food was expired, we were badly treated. Two people tried to commit suicide. In addition, we were given Rosina, a pill that sedated us.
After 40 days, we were sentenced in court so they took us to an open camp in Skopje the capital of Macedonia, again it was in bad conditions and were offered one uneatable meal per day.
After a week, we tried to cross the border between Macedonia and Serbia through a smuggler, paying 500€ each, so 1500€ in total. We took a taxi driving to a small Macedonian village on border with Serbia, Loyan, full of Mafia. We stayed for 5 days, but could not cross the border and went back to the open camp, because my wife was not feeling well. However, the open camp did not receive us, so we had to spend two nights in a Mosque. I had lost 1500 € in the attempt to reaching Serbia.
But we wanted to try again to get tried to get to Belgrad, Serbia’s capital so we went back to the small village of Loyan for 10 days. The smuggler then asked us for 300€ each per so 900 €, which we could not afford. So I asked my brother to help in this matter.
Finally, after several other attempts, the Macedonian police caught us and sent us back to Greece, to Athens again.
So after 3 painful months of exhausting travelling, with no certainties, no maps, no one to trust to move on, we were back to square one, back to Athens.
It has now been 11 months since I have left my country, Syria. Although I try to fight despair and anger for my rights being constantly violated, for the violence we have to bear, for the lack of a decent life, decent food, decent shelters, for constantly facing how things are so unfair for us refugees running away from war: but I am keeping the hope to reach Germany, and rejoin my parents.
I shall continue my path especially because of my wife, to protect her from possible violence from Isis, for the children that could come along one day, for their future.
I also hope to complete my degree in Law”.
… I have a Dream
Greece – Athina
Update, notes on methodology and sources:
June 20th 2017: Dilovan, Hussein and Avin have reached Hannover in the last couple of months. They have started the asylum seeking process with the German authorities. Dilovan would like to find a University course to study Law and Avin is today a beautiful young pregnant lady. Hussein is a happy and smiling brother.
This story has been written in English by Dilovan himself, only very few grammar adjustments were made by the anthropologist-journalist, Melissa Pignatelli, who collected the story. Many phone calls, video chats, voice mails and emails have been necessary to finalize this work that stretched from January 2017 to June 2017.
The story was first published in Italian with a thorough commentary on the role of bureaucracy as a new way to defend privileges and on the lack of that Illuminist gaze on migrant stories: human beings fleeing a territory where First World nations clashing and dividing local groups over power struggles for the control of natural resources.
We thank Catharina Kahane, and the wonderful women who founded Echo100+ , an Austrian charity to help Greece face the Refugee crisis, for her help in finding Dilovan and his story.