Syria: a crisis at Fortress Europe’s gates – video by John Domokos and Alex Rees (transcription by Souria Houria)
Since the war began in Syria, thousands of refugees have made the precarious journey through Turkey into Europe in search of safety. We follow the lives of two refugee families as they encounter people-smugglers, border guards and shocking conditions. They find themselves torn apart – not by the war back home – but by a new enemy: ‘Fortress Europe’
(Bulgarian fronteer Commissionner Hristo Stefanov) : -« Obviously we can’t live without borders. Mankind has’nt reached that point yet.
Borders divide different worlds, different countries, sometimes ennemies.
Borders secure peace.
This, for me is one of the most important borders of the European Union.In the last year, tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have attempted the precarious journey to Europe looking for asylum.
This is the story of three of them:
A syrian man(Tarik):
– It’s a smuggler. Allo How is the route looking? Is it any good?
-There is a route.
-How much did we discuss?
-It was 500.
– He says I will get there safely, is there a safe road? only God can provide that.
Either you make it, you get caught, you get beaten up, or you die.
It seems we have left a war to enter another
Harmanli-refugee reception center , Bulgaria
[the journalist] : Bulgaria has seen a huge increase in refugees, reaching its border with Turkey
ever since neibour in Greece, steped up securities at its borders a year ago.
To cope with this impressive influence,Bulgaria has hastely opened several make shift reception centers such as this disused barracks, at Harmanly.
I was granted access just before christmas. for most of the time, the only official presence I see is to stop people leaving.
The camp commandant makes a rare appearance to sign in the latest arrival: a woman with four children, from there they’ left to find for themselves.
-« She’scared. she’s alone with four kids and theres isn’t space here.May God protect her. »
Sipar himself a syrian refugee takes her to find somewhere to sleep.
« They’re saying there is no place here. There are one, two, three, four rooms here. Four or five families are sharing each room. there’s no place for them.
I don’t know what we are going to do. The tents are all on the ground. The trailers are full.We looked everywhere.There’s no room and she is still downstairs. This is a disaster. »
They have to try another building on the other side of the complex.
– « All the time there are new refugees arriving here, and there are now more than 1000 people even though spaces are limited. »
Ivan (Ivan Atanassov Bulgarian journalist) is a local bulgarian journalist who has sought to comply with the syrian heart :
« The local camp administrators are forced to accommodate them in tents, in inhumane conditions. I don’t understand when all of this is going to stop.
Why do they continue to bring them here when the living conditions are not suitable ?
In the 21 st century they are having to keep warm by burning wood in a falling down tent with no clean water for basic hygiene of their children. »
[the journalist] This is Yasmine she is here for 2 months now separated from her husband heavely pregnant, alone with her four year old son.
– « I m all alone here. I have to look after my son on my own and also the baby in my womb. In my final month and I don’t know what’s going to happen to us. Today we only had soup. I’m worried about my baby, there are no vitamines in my belly. »
– Where is your husband? Istanbul, he’s waiting for the road to open. He has tried to cross the Bulgaria Turkey border three times and they’ve sent him back.
Tariq, Yasmine’s husband, Istanbul.
« -I m ready to do anything for them. I’ll try the border however many times it takes.
Look, this is what I carry when I head to the forest.Spare sockets for when they get wet.
Look it’s from the forest…(earth in his hand).
If you look at me, I look good. I’m like a rocket. But inside, I feel completely destroyed far from my family. »
[the journalist] :Yasmine’s husband Tariq is one over almost a million syrian who fled to Turkey, 200000 are thought to be in Istambul alone, living in the margins and many hoping to move on to Europe . Aksaray is where you meet smuglers in Istambul.
-« You go there, get off the bus, and by the metro station…you sit there, and they say, ‘Hey bro! want to go to Bulgaria, Afghanistan, Greece? they wink at you… ‘Greece? Bulgaria?’ And so we set off to Edirne. »
[the journalist] :Edirne is a staging post for smuggling people into Europe.We managed to interview a smuggler on the phone. He’s also syrian.
[voice of smuggler] Each route has its price. depending on whether people want to go by road or sea.To get to Bulgaria it costs about $500 (£300) (€370).
[Yasmine’s husband]We are forced to deal with them and all they care about is money.They don’t care whether you can cope and will make it, or whether you die.
[voice of smuggler] We’re not doing this for money. But because those people who get out, are the same ones who will return and rebuild their country.
[Yasmine’s husband]-And then one of his men drove us somewhere near the border outside Edirne. They go with you for 15 to 30 minutes then leave you to it
[voice of smuggler] You might have to spend a whole day in the forest. and this weather doesn’t help.It ‘ s cold and there is the river.
[Yasmine’s husband]This is what we are forced to go through. You are risking your life just to get to your family.
[voice of smuggler] The road to Bulgaria is difficult at the moment. In fact you could say it’s blocked.
Commissionner Hristo Stefanov, Border Control Centre Bulgaria
« -Nobody is allowed to enter here freely, even me. This is the ‘brain centre’ of the regional Directorate. This is the place where we collect all the surveillance information.
There are 6 stationary monitoring posts which are equipped with day and night cameras and far sighted laser-aided vision systems.
This is the exact border between the two countries.
Every time the sensor line is crossed, the system registers an alarm. There are two different cases. If we detect a group in Turkish territory, we inform them.If it’s in Bulgarian territory, then my colleagues inform the chief of the patrol on duty or the border police.
It’s not such an easy thing to cross the Bulgarian-Turkish border. Many people are finding this out for themselves. That’s why they’re in the distribution centre now, and some under arrest. »
Harmanli-refugee reception center , Bulgaria
This is Aziz, he seems a man to ask if you need a helping hand to Harmanly refugee camp. Aziz takes on the time to find space for the new family who are now getting desesperate.
« -Look, how about here? we can put a curtain up here and the four of them can sleep there.
I will help. I will help her clear it up. »
[Ivan Atanassov Bulgarian journalist’s voice]: I believe at the border they have super modern technologies. They can see 14 km into Turkey, they have helicopters, and all sorts of things.
They’ve spent loads of money and yet they can’t even spare a joke sum of say a million Lev (£ 425 000) to build a decent camp? They can’t spare a million Lev to make a suitable camp site?
They have not travelled 2000 to 3000 km to get here to set up businesses or for their leisure.
I saw mothers, children and elderly people with basic, ripped clothing, small amounts of luggage and I realised that they are desesperate.
Aziz : « -It’s like a horror film. «
– « I realised that both myself and my friends are able to help them in the form of clothing, to exchange their currency and provide them with the most basic things. »
One meal a day is now also provided with the UA, even though Aziz is helping everyone else he is not without difficulties of his own. Worse travelling to Germany from Syria, he run into trouble with the smugglers he was using. « The smugglers deceived us. They said the whole family could come in. At the border there was an argument. They starting bossing us around. they took some of my family. But they left me, two daugthers and my son behind. They wanted more money. « Like many refugees here Aziz’smost treasured possesions are his documents in particular some in German which he believes give him permission to reunite with the rest of his families in Germany
Aziz : « These are documents from the German lawyer.Yes, and there are nine documents for legally reuniting our family. But they’re not listening to me here. These are family reunification papers.It is approval received by the German embassy here. They sent the documents back to Germany because they couldn’t find me. I’m here in prison. How will they find me? How will the embassy find me? »
The journalist : Lots of these refugees are stuck here in this familiar trap. Although European countries are bound to a law to offer asyle to the refugees escaping war, european border policy makes it almost impossible to get there.
Border Control Centre Elhovo, Bulgaria
Captain Hristo Stefanov show us recent interception of illigal border crossings.
« -Usually there are fewer breaches in winter. Naturally in the spring and summer there are more. And they think fog makes it harder for us to detect them, our sensors are not affected. Now the numbers. Officially, there are more than 600 000 illegal immigrants in Turkey.Unofficially it’s around 1.2 million. These people don’t move alone, they move with smugglers. People smuggling in Turkey is actually an industry, it’s not just a business, but a whole industry. So our main opponents are the ringleaders of this people smuggling, not just the people who physically smuggle them.
Bulgaria has received both pressure , funding and support from Europe to step up security at a system border
This, for me, is one of the most important borders of the european Union. Because through this border passes the main flow of migrants, including from central and northern Africa, Asia, former Soviet countries, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and the citizens of Syria. It’s almost the whole world. »
In an Istanbul Café Tarik and his fellow syrians are discussing the limited options for reaching Europe.
[one of the men] »-I know someone who spent three days in the forest heading for Sweden. »
Tarik: -There was a baby with us the last time. He fell on the floor and almost died from the cold.
-There is no mercy.
Not if you’re Syrian.
[one of the men]-Syrians are like the Palestinians in Beirut. We are like the Palestinians now.
[another man]-If the Arabs don’t welcome us why should the Europeans ?
[the journalist] Tarik and Yasmine wanted to get to Europe because of a heard of a greatest ability and right for syrian refugees.
Tarik:- » If you [work] in Turkey , you wonder will this guy pay me at the end of the month? will he sack me? will I be sent back to the war I left? »
Yasmine: -« The situation really deteriorated in Syria. We were comfortably off. I was a housewife and my husband had work, thanks to God. We had to move to the village because the villages we safe. And then the war came to the villages.
Islamists came and kidnapped him for a month. They broke his jaw. »
Tarik : »- I told her to go ahead an save herself. She didn’t want to , but I insisted they go.
I said, » I will follow ».
[the journalist] Tarik wondered if staying in Turkey would have been better.
Yasmine : »- Is there was a way back? I would go if there was. I feel like a criminal here. We are imprisonned, we can’t get out. »
[the journalist] I asked her how she manages to keep smiling.
Yasmine : -« Yes, that’s how I am. I can’t show what’s really in my heart. »
Tarik:- » I know they’re suffering every day. We were happy and comfortable. We used to say thanks to God’ Now we can’t say anything. »
[the journalist] I showed Tarik some videos of his wife and child in Bulgaria
-« Look, he’s always the best looking one, the leader. »
[the journalist] It’s almost Christmas, to raise spirits Yvan and his friends are decorating a tree
Merry Christmas ! very good! come very happily [smiling gesture]
Yvan: -« We do the same, like our Christian brothers during Christmas
We also used to go to the market and buy a Christmas tree and decorate it put Santa and little baubles on it, decorate the rooms, and have a feast. »
Yasmine : « -For two years there have been no celebrations in Syria. They ve forgotten how to smile in Syria. »
[the journalist] We had Aziz supposed unification documents translated but it turned out to be more application forms from the ambassy not at all Aziz ‘s hopefull or expected.
Aziz: « -I wish I could die. I wish that the devil could take our souls. I left my homeland, my land, my people. Our family has been separated from me. Of course I’m upset. I’ve lost everything, my life’s work. »
[A woman ]: « We got out of the war there and got into a new one here. Tell them. »
Aziz: -« They know, well enough. »
Captain Hristo Stefanov :- » I do feel sorry for the ones who are really escaping war but not all of them fall into that category.I can only feel pride to serve at the Bulgaria- Turkey boarder one of the most difficult. We are at the frontline of securing of our country. »
Istanbul, new year’s eve, 2013
[the journalist] It’s new year’eve in Istanbul, Tarik is reflecting on his latest attempt to get to his wife and child in Bulgaria. And he’s getting desesperate.
Aziz: -« We were caught by a bulgarian policeman. We got a good beating ,with sticks, on our hand.
I couldn’t speak the language, I tried to explain, using sign language that my wife was pregnant and in Bulgaria.They didn’t understand and began hitting us with sticks saying « back to Syria ».She’s at the end of her pregnancy. I don’t know what will happen to her.
I’m not eating or drinking. All I can manage are coffee and cigarettes.All I can think about is death and suffering.
Hello! Hello son how are you?
-[his son] Happy new year !
-Happy new year to you as well my son, my heart.
Yasmin, I am really feeling the burden. »
Yasmin : » -No, no don’t say that. »
Aziz: » -If I was with my family every day would be a celebration, but without them, nothing can make me happy. Whenever I look at a woman I see my wife.When I look at a boy I see my son. All I can say is that I wish we had stayed there and died, together. But you can never know what fate has in store for you. Whether they like it or not, I will keep trying. I don’t care about their precious borders and national pride.
Wouldn’t you do anything, John? Even If I die on that road. And If I die, tell my wife’Tarik tried everything to get to you’ That’s all I ask, to tell her that. »
Yasmin’s baby is due.
She is still in Harmanli. Her husband Tarik is planning another attempt to reach her this week.
Aziz finally got out of Harmanli and is working with the German embassy to reunite with his family.
date : 13/01/2014