Monday 26 September 2016

Migrants have tragically naive and rosy view of life in Europe

Published 08/10/2015 | 02:30

A young Syrian migrant waiting for a ferry to mainland Europe from Kos Photos: Mark Condren
A young Syrian migrant waiting for a ferry to mainland Europe from Kos Photos: Mark Condren
A happy Syrian family after they picked up their permits to continue their journey into mainland Europe Photo: Mark Condren
Parahan (5) and her sister Taherah (7) Mussa Zad arriving at sunset in the port of Kos after making the treacherous journey from Turkey Photo: Mark Condren

Our conversation swings ungracefully and almost comically, translated by two helpful migrants and the hotel owner from English into first Arabic, then Turkish and finally into Farsi and back round again. It is a real-life Tower of Babel.

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I had asked the grandfather, Ishmael Admed Zad, from Afghanistan, why he had chosen to leave his home country and come to Europe. In his early to mid-50s, his trade lay in making traditional Afghan melon and pomegranate juices.

He told me he spent two months in Iran but could not get the proper documentation to be allowed to work there.

He then entered Turkey illegally but again was not allowed to work.

The narrative peters out at this point as the Arabic and Turkish translators tell his story.

Ishmael ended up in a rubber dinghy along with nine other members of his extended family - six adults in total, including his daughter, along with her four young children, aged from five to 14 - as they made the perilous 10km journey across from Bodrum in Turkey to the Greek island of Kos in what were, the previous night, frighteningly choppy seas with a strong current.

In the dinghy with them were 10 Iranians, five from Pakistan and five others from Bangladesh.

But in what is by now a very familiar tale, the cheap outboard engine supplied by the human traffickers broke down and the group had to be rescued and brought to shore by the Greek coastguard.

The two smallest girls, Parahan (5) and Taherah (7), are beautiful and sit on the stairs, listening to the animated junction of languages, exhausted but curious. Like many children her age, Parahan has put her shoes on the wrong feet and once these are adjusted, she smiles.

She and her sister were wearing traditionally colourful and highly elaborate coats when they first arrived, but had been soaked to the skin by the backwash and now they were wearing western clothes, including new pink runners donated by Kos Solidarity, which, with Kos Kindness, is one of two charities operating on the island.

Both do vital work for migrants, but at times they do not see eye to eye about the distribution of items.

Some say that in the absence of any 'joined-up thinking' on the island, there have been oversights, with families left in hotels without food or water for two days.

When I ask Ishmael where he and his family hope to end up, his translated reply comes back: "Germany - or Swiss."

"Switzerland - an expensive country," I venture and it appears to come as some surprise to him.

A German woman, working out here as a volunteer and patrolling the beaches at night to wait for the inevitable arrival of a fresh batch of migrants informs me that they are, in general, tragically ill informed about Europe and the systems here.

"They think that they will be able to start a new life again and that they will be able to work," she said.

"I have seen the camps at home and while they are not bad, it is not possible to have a good life there. It is very sad."

Nevertheless, for most of the migrants arriving in Kos, Germany is where they are striving so determinedly to reach. Many of the Syrians with whom I speak also mention Sweden, again and again, in glowing terms.

"Life is fair there. It is peaceful," they say, again apparently unaware of any possible social-inclusion issues they may face.

Yesterday, at the guest house in Kos, hours after the Afghan family had arrived, many Syrians who had been here for some days were radiant-faced as they packed up their sparse few possessions, donated by the local charities, and prepared for the 12-hour ferry journey to Athens that night.

Kos was just a leg in their journey, a chance to rest weary heads before resuming their arduous journey by foot, by bus, by train and by taxi. Until they finally reach the Promised Land.

To donate to agencies supporting migrants, contact: Goal: www.goalglobal.org; Médecins Sans Frontières: www.msf.ie/donate; Unicef: www.unicef.ie.

Irish Independent

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