Mohannad Sharrouf vluchtte uit Syrië. In een serie artikelen beschrijft hij hoe zijn tocht naar Nederland verliep.
I just came out of the airport and I felt tired after the flight of more than four hours, from Beirut to Algeria. Four hours ago I was in Lebanon, three hours away from my home in Syria. Now I am at the African continent, in the capital of Algeria, to be exactly. Now I am far away from home.
The first Algerian face I met was that of an officer who wanted to take a look at my passport. He asked me why I am visiting Algeria. The way he held my passport, the way he talked to me and the way his eyes moved all around me reminded me of the way Syrian officers treated me. That recalled a very bad experience and made me all of a sudden decide not to stay in Algeria. I felt that this would not be a safe place for me and realized I had to continue my journey. When I finished the short interview at the airport and was allowed to enter the country, I felt lost.
A Syrian in Algeria
I had never been in this city. With the first impression from the airport fresh in my mind, I felt alone and all I wanted was to leave the country as soon as I could. I had decided not to stay in Algeria and this decision made me feel disappointed. Before I hoped that maybe I could stay in Algeria and start a new life there. In this country at least the people spoke Arabic!
After the incident at the airport, I yearned for someone friendly, something familiar. And there he was. He came to me and smiled. Asked me if he was right that I am Syrian. I am very Syrian and also so very proud. His question and the fact that he recognized me gave me a good feeling. People need to be recognized. He was 36 years old and had lived in Syria for a couple of years. He named a few Syrian cities and even restaurants. I liked it so much, when he started talking about Syria and his life there I felt connected.
Then, he asked me if I wanted to go to Italy; maybe he could help. I immediately understood that he was a smuggler and asked him how much would it cost to go to Italy. ‘Money is not important’, he told me. ‘We are brothers!’ He added that Syrians are facing hard times now and they need all possible help. When I insisted on knowing how much I should pay him, he reassured me that money is not important at all. He was doing this only because he felt like he should help us, the Syrian people.
The moment I stepped into the car and we left the airport I realized I was with two total strangers. Sitting in their car heading nowhere made me feel cold. What was I doing here in this car with those two strangers? The idea gave me almost a heart attack. When the car left the city my heart sunk and I realized that I made a huge mistake.
I did not want them to see my fear and anxiety but I was completely occupied by the idea that they could do anything to me now and I could not stop them. The idea of being vulnerable was killing me and the fact that I had put myself in this situation even more. What an idiot I was, that sentence kept running through my head and made me feel cold. My mouth was dry and I could not even breathe normally.
I had no idea where I was. All I knew was that it was on the second-floor of an apartment in Algeria, two hours driving from Algeria airport. The place was new but not finished yet. I climbed the dirty unpainted cement stairs, the door was open and the smell from the kitchen told me a dinner was being prepared. Temperature and humidity were high, in the small and poorly furnished apartment.
When I saw their faces and heard their Syrian accent, I felt relieved. I was greeted and welcomed by other Syrians. Syrians have a special kind of Arabic dialect and a specific way of talking. I knew these people were just like me, on their way to Italy. Never in my life I had been so happy to see Syrians or to hear the Syrian accent like at that moment. In a second all my fears disappeared.
I sat by the door with my eyes wide open and a smile on my face. New faces and dozens of eyes were looking at me. Fortunately, the food was ready and the silence was broken, I was hungry. We ate together but did not speak. As if there was an agreement not to talk to each other or maybe it was something else. It was Syrian food made by Syrian hands.
After we finished eating, the smuggler I met in the airport asked us to prepare ourselves. He told us we were leaving in half an hour but did not say anything about our destination. For me at this moment, it didn’t matter since I felt safe with my people. How nice to be amongst people you share the same culture and language with. It was evening and the sun was about to announce the end of the day.
The way to Italy
I was called by the smuggler for a private talk in his room. He was taller than me. I noticed that he was tall and skinny, had a dark skin with a moustache and short hair. He smoked a lot and he has a disgusting breathing smell. I believe he never ever brushed his teeth.
In his room I saw two white wooden beds and a closet. It was spacious enough for two people. The style of the beds, the closet and the additional pieces told me that this was a bedroom of a newly married couple. The windows closed, a number of bags on the floor, some of them were open.
When we sat there, the man said I might want to pay him 2000 dollars. I didn’t expect him any more to ask for money and said very carefully: ‘It is a lot of money brother?’ He told me it was for the whole way to Italy and said: ‘Believe me, I get very little of this amount, brother.’
Me: ‘I believe you, brother.’ Both of us knew this was not true. He added: ‘You don’t want to go to Italy?’ With a sigh and the feeling there is something wrong I told him ‘yes, I want to go to Italy’ and tried again to convince him that this is a lot of money. Isn’t it a lot of money, 2000 dollars!?
Caught and trapped
He did not reply and I had to pay. I felt like I was caught there, or even trapped. I didn’t know what the consequences would be if I insisted that 2000 dollar is a lot of money to pay someone I just met two hours ago. In that room we were alone. I wished I asked someone before how much I was expect to pay or how much they had to pay. But there in that room I was alone.
I wanted to call my wife and my family, I wanted to tell them that I was save in Algeria. But to make this call to Syria I had to use the smugglers mobile and I did not want him to know my wife and families mobile numbers, especially after what happened in his room. I did not trust him anymore.
We left with five or six taxis, heading from the middle of nowhere to the bus station also in the middle of nowhere. We waited at the entrance in the taxis while the smugglers were making calls and talking to other people at the main entrance of the bus station. We waited about 20 minutes and then we entered the bus station.
Hurry up and go to that bus! The smugglers said.
We sat there as if we committed a crime. we didn’t dare to talk to each other. We had no idea about the destination of this bus. I was looking out of the window, trying to read some signs that might help me understand this situation but there was nothing to be read. I could not even find the name of the bus station. I thought about asking one of the passengers but did not dare to speak to them, not anymore. I did not want to make any other mistakes. And I did not trust anyone after I had to pay the 2000 dollars. While sitting there I promised myself not to trust anybody in the world anymore. Not even my brothers and sisters, and I should always know in advance how much I have to pay!
‘What have I done, what do I do here?’ I felt like I had made a huge mistake, everything was wrong and I could not do anything to put things on the right track again. Why did I have to face all this? I remember regretting everything and feeling that the mistake of sitting in that bus heading to nowhere was not the last one.
Image: Paul Joseph CC BY 2.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)