Sunday 25 September 2016

Hopeful refugees delighted to leave their 'holding pen'

Published 09/10/2015 | 02:30

Tired migrants rest after arriving in Kos
Tired migrants rest after arriving in Kos
Migrants give each other a kiss while in separate queues before boarding a ship from Kos to mainland Europe last night

It's 8pm down at the port in Kos and we are about to board the Blue Star ferry to Athens. We were lucky to get a ticket. The ship is all but full and the atmospheric is euphoric as hordes of migrant families embark, impatient to start a new life on mainland Europe.

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As the vessel pulls away from the harbour, a cheer goes up. It turns out that nobody is sorry to say goodbye to the 'holding pen' of Kos where their future was so uncertain. Most have Germany in mind as their final destination.

As yet, they are blissfully unaware of the latest developments there, with reports that the tide of public opinion is turning increasingly against the influx of 'auslanders' or foreigners, with frequent arson attacks on refugee shelters and reports of migrants being greeted at the doors of their homes by neo-Nazis humming Third Reich songs and pelting them with banana skins.

Latest estimates, unconfirmed by the German government, are that Germany might expect as many as 1.5 million refugees by the end of the year, with most from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Among those figures are the people aboard this ferry, now settling themselves down for an uncomfortable 11-hour journey weaving through the Greek islands.

A young Syrian woman, Makram Axtouni (24) from Damascus, is about to put her niece Joury (3) down to sleep. Joury's mother abandoned her some months ago, fleeing to Lebanon with her older son. They have had no contact from her since then.

Her husband, Makram's brother, was imprisoned by the Syrian authorities and the family learned of this only when they saw it on a television report.

Joury is ill with Sickle Cell Anaemia and has frequently spent spells of up to 15 days in hospital in Damascus.

Makram is determined to reach Germany so that her niece can have an operation and get well again. "When her blood is low, she gets very tired," explained Makram.

Life in Damascus had become impossible. Her family home had been destroyed and they had to go to a safer place - but her parents still remain.

A qualified graphic design artist and sculptress, Makram hopes to find work in Germany. "A new life - and Joury will not be sick. That is the important thing," she said.

It has been a long and circuitous journey for cousins Athena (20) and Abdullah Mahmood (23) from Tartous on the Syrian coast. Abdullah worked for nine months as a stevedore in the engine room of ships to raise the money for his passage to Europe.

"Very difficult work," he said, showing me pictures on his mobile phone of his face, blackened from engine oil.

Athena studied English Literature at university and is travelling with her parents, brother, aunt and another friend. Abdullah is not so lucky - he had to leave his parents behind in Syria. "I feel alone," he said.

Irish Independent

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