World Bulletin/News Desk
Syrian refugee Mahmoud Abu Youssef could only find a creaky boat to take him to Europe, where conditions – he hoped – would be better than in Egypt, his first destination after fleeing the bloodshed and fighting back home.
"Life has become so difficult for me in Egypt, given the country's current political and economic conditions," Abu Youssef, 25, told Anadolu Agency via Skype from Germany.
Illegal travel to Europe has become the only way out for thousands of Syrian and Palestinian refugees, who, after coming to Egypt, discover that ongoing political and economic turmoil in the Arab world's most populous country would deprive them of a stable and dignified life.
A rising wave of illegal immigration, involving mainly Syrians and Palestinians, has swept Egypt in recent months.
The Egyptian Coast Guard has managed to arrest a large number of such illegal immigrants, but this has only encouraged smugglers and middlemen to hone their skills further to avoid detection and arrest.
The journey, however, does not always end safely, as in the case of a boat that recently sank off the Italian coast, ending the lives of around 100 Syrian refugees on board.
When he was in Egypt, Abu Youssef was told by a friend about a man who helped refugees immigrate to Europe.
He called the middleman in the coastal city of Alexandria, some 200 kilometers north of the capital Cairo.
The man had asked Abu Youssef to pay him $4,000 to help arrange his travel to Italy, but the Syrian refugee refused to pay up before landing in Italy.
When they struck the deal, the man took Abu Youssef to an Alexandria apartment and told him not to go outside.
There were several other people in the apartment, including two families who stayed in two separate rooms.
Abu Youssef had to spend the night with two other men who were also waiting to illegally travel to Italy.
Time passed slowly. For Abu Youssef, the apartment was particularly dismal since it reminded him of the place in which he had been detained for two months in Syria following his participation in an anti-regime demonstration in 2011.
Four days later, the broker told Abu Youssef and the others that it was time to start their journey.
Darkness engulfed everything in sight, but Abu Youssef and the others had to pack for the journey.
The middleman brought a small vehicle that brought the group to the Mediterranean coast.
All 30 people boarded a small, antiquated boat. They cast off, but there was nothing to see; there was no light at all.
"We were afraid the Coast Guard would see us and arrest us," said Abu Youssef.
Half an hour later, the small vessel reached a larger motorboat, which the migrants boarded.
It took them no less than six complete hours to board the larger boat, as high waves kept driving the two boats apart.
With 200 travellers on board, the motorboat embarked on its perilous journey.
Mediterranean swells and howling winds across white-capped waves danced before Abu Youssef's eyes.
He saw the waves crash across the decks of the boat, filling his heart – and those of the other immigrants – with dread.
"If you want to jump, jump," the captain, a sturdily-built curly-haired man, would tell immigrants whenever they objected or showed fear.
The boat sailed for six straight days without stopping.
There were four pregnant women on board, who suffered the most.
One of them had to deliver her baby on board, with the help of a fellow immigrant who happened to be a doctor by profession.
"We stared death in the face several times during the journey," Abu Youssef recalled.
Six days after setting sail, the captain told everybody that his mission had come to an end.
A smaller boat approached and it took the group four hours to move into their new ride.
Here, a new adventure began.
Immigrants on the smaller boat wanted to draw the attention of the Italian Coast Guard to them.
They spent the next 15 hours shouting and screaming in hopes that the Italian Coast Guard would notice their presence.
They suddenly heard helicopters roaring over their heads, signaling the arrival of the Italian Coast Guard, which eventually pulled the boat ashore.
"This brought our suffering to an end," said Abu Youssef. "The Italians offered us food and gave us medical attention."
Some of them were allowed to travel to France by train, while others preferred to stay in Italy.
Abu Youssef decided to go to Germany, where the government provides asylum-seekers with monthly financial support to the tune of 700 euros and housing.
"True, I have seen death with my own eyes – but it was my only choice," he told AA.
"In Europe and Turkey, we're treated like human beings – something we couldn't find in the Arab countries we initially travelled to."Last Mod: 10 Ekim 2013, 14:25