Syrians’ desperate journey across the sea
ISTANBUL - Turkish Coast Guard crews have picked up more than 2,100 mostly Syrian refugees trying to get from Turkey to Greece in less than a week.
Quoting Coast Guard sources, Turkish media reported that, from August 7th to August 10th, 1,799 refugees were rescued from small boats in the Aegean.
Another 330 Syrians were found adrift on August 11th, Reuters reported.
Refugees told Turkish media they were driven by fears of being sent back to their war-torn country and by worsening conditions in Turkey, which has taken in close to 2 million Syrians since the conflict there began in 2011.
One man in the western city of Izmir told the Hurriyet newspaper he and many others left Syria to avoid being conscripted into the military of President Bashar Assad or being forced to join extremist rebel groups.
“We do not want to join the army and fight in the war,” the man, who was identified by the initials M.Y., told the daily. “You have to join either Assad or ISIS.”
A group of five young men told Hurriyet they were more afraid of being sent back to Syria than of the boat journey to Greece. “If we can’t make it [to Greece] within a month, Turkey will deport us,” one of them said.
A return to Syria would mean they would have to join government troops. “This is why we are not afraid of the risky boat trip. We don’t have another choice,” he said. Turkey has not yet sent any refugees back to Syria and maintains it will stick to its “open door” policy that says no refugee from Syria will be turned away.
But many refugees find it hard to earn money and to find an affordable place to stay. For some, the crossing to Greece presents itself as a chance to overcome their plight.
Fatma Ahmet, a 38-year-old woman who ran a pharmacy in Syria before she fled to Turkey with her four children, said it was impossible for her to get by.
“The authorities are helping but we want to work,” she told the Turkish DHA news agency in Izmir.
As Syrian refugees are not allowed to work legally in Turkey, many of them complain of having to work for extremely low wages in the informal labour market. “If you find work, they give you 30 lira ($11) a day or they don’t pay you at all,” Ahmet said.