Monday, 21 March 2016

My Syrian refugee experience.



I went to see my sister recently backpacking along the southern Turkish coast where everyone lives and travels. The hinterland being a mountainous, snow capped, sparsely populated inhospitable region.

I thought I may see parts of the migrant flow as it is the obvious route for migrant flows across Turkey to The Greek Islands.

Travelling on a half empty local bus running along the beach with its dunes and palm trees every now and again a ramshackle tent or tents would appear. From a moving bus in another world it's hard to know what this means other than some form of poverty. I suspected it was in fact migrating Syrians?


On we went across what is a huge country. The bus stopped as usual to pick up road side passengers. Except this time 2 men, 3 women and around 8 children scampered across the dual carriageway over the grassy central reservation and across the dual carriageway on our side and approached the bus. They were clearly impoverished but for what reason I thought?

There was polite chatter, the ticket collector was very helpful and the men waved the children and women on. No attention was paid to tickets or money. Just a wave of 'get on, it's ok' They filled all the empty seats on the mini bus.

There was a conversation. It seemed to be about sitting down. That appeared to be what lawfully is required? The bus couldn't set off without people being sat. Pointing arms were made of the next bus and that the party could be reunited.

At this point the temperature began to rise unnecessarily prompted solely by the desperate Syrian refugees. The conductor reassured in polite terms they would be ok, split evenly they would be reunited at the other end. They wanted to help but the Syrian men began to shout, the Syrian women still on the bus reacted with screams and with open arms to the men - their husbands.

The conductor was joined by the driver both now offering open arms, helpfully pointing to bus stop down the coast where they could all be reunited. It was clearly an act of great charity.

The men suddenly pushed the driver against the bus and lurched towards hitting him. The conductor pulled a big hidden stick out and launched at the two threatening Syrian men. The women screaming disembarked with the rag bag, bedraggled children by the open rear door which they had partially embarked via.

Grabbing menacingly the conductor launched two big swift swings at the Syrian men away from the head. Two more drivers stopped on the other carriage and came running over to help. The Syrian men continued to abuse the driver and the conductor and the bedraggled family headed off back to the dunes.

Our driver and conductor then had a 3 minute recount with the other driver and conductor in which the body language was "you try to help but what can you do, these [desperate] people". Lots of gesticulation and sense of disappointment, anger, frustration.

Dusting down and shocked they returned to the bus. I asked the conductor in international gesticulation (he spoke no English) what that was that all about? He waved his arm in the air and said "Syrians, refugees". The body language "we tried to help them" which was evidently true though on what terms wasn't clear.

As we pulled away I could see the two men pulling their children in an angry fashion as they walked westward along the palm covered flat dunes.

We pulled over at the next town at the 10 minute rest stop. A small otogar populated by cafes and drivers. Three or four other mini buses doing the same. Quick to jump out of the bus the driver and conductor still shocked engaged immediately in an exasperated conversation with the other drivers as they flocked to hear. It wasn't a one way conversation. More of a shared experience. This took up the whole 10 minutes. Back on the bus the passengers spoke with the conductor. One passenger in her best broken English said Syrians cause lots of problems. They aren't liked.

One wonders how humanity arrives at this point? Why did the men behave aggressively. There was absolutely no threat and the bus conductor was clearly obliging and helpful. What drives people to drag their families through this? The sight and plight of the children will stick with me. It probably resonated with the driver.

At every juncture we don't see empathy, we see humanity loathing. At besieged Greek tourist resorts, at Balkan borders and increasingly in Northern Europe particularly Germany.

I just can't seen how this forced and unmanaged passage of refugees is right, helpful or crucially civilised. Where such incivility and criminality thrives; either in personal desperation or in the profit of traffickers.

It seems to me there are two factors. What's behind and secondly what is in front of these families. The world has clearly failed the Syrians in the region. We shouldn't have got involved in the Arab spring and subsequent Syrian civil war. Harsh conditions and reduced food supplies is no life and after years in camps, refugees are fleeing. Europe has also failed because it has offered an incentive to this terrible mass migration. A callous one where the gauntlet if life and death is run. Where children's bodies wash up dead on beaches and the criminals make €millions.

Where in Britain we simply dump refugees in the very poorest areas of our inner cities already awash with social problems including unemployment and drugs. Twilight places pro-advocates of increased migration would never visit themselves, let alone live there.

There has to be a better and more humane answer.