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Adnan "Abu Shadi", 37 years old, from Al Qunaitra, Syria

Part 1

“Before the war, I worked in construction. I was never interested in politics and never had to deal with political problems. Life was normal, beautiful.”

In 2004, Adnan married Sheika, with whom he now has four children with. They had a modest wedding party, because his grandmother had passed away only a week before their wedding. They had met at another wedding, and when Adnan found out that Sheika was ready to get married, he quickly sent his father to ask for her hand.

When the war broke out, Adnan moved his family five times within Syria, in an effort to find shelter from the bombs. Eventually, it became too dangerous to stay, and they decided to leave. A friend in Germany urged him to leave Syria, and sent him some money to pay the smugglers. To cross the regime-controlled area and get to Turkey, smugglers initially asked for 350 dollars per person, but in reality, the journey ended up costing a lot more.

“The first time we tried, the regime soldiers caught us and took all our money. The smugglers escaped. Then, later, we tried again with different smugglers, crossing through the desert. They promised us another smuggler would be waiting for us in the desert to take us to Turkey, but no one showed up. It was night and snowing and very cold. The roads were closed because of the snow. We walked for about 5 km and came across a small Bedouin tent. The Bedouin man welcomed us and we stayed with him for 5 days. When the roads cleared, a driver came to pick us up and take us to the next village, demanding 100 extra dollars. For weeks we travelled with different smugglers, between towns, to Al Mayadin, then to Al-Raqqa, where we stayed for more than a week looking for a smuggler to continue the journey. Each step of the way we were asked for more and more money. When we got near the Turkish border, the roads were closed because of fighting between the Kurdish forces and the Free Syrian Army. One smuggler offered to take us across the area controlled by the PKK (The Kurdistan Workers' Party) for 5000 Syrian pounds per person. We finally arrived in Sarmada, the town nearest to the Turkish border, where people crossed into Turkey. After a week of negotiating, we found a smuggler to take us over the border.”


Photo: Clara Veale / Story: Voices of Refugees

Part 2

“We walked in the mountains for hours trying to cross into Turkey. But the border patrol found us and detained us for 24 hours. Then we were released and sent back to Syria. The crossing had failed, so I found the smuggler and demanded our money back, but he refused. We were out of money by then.”

Adnan asked his brother in Lebanon to help him out and his brother sent him another $600 to help the family cross the border into Turkey. 

“We went back into the mountains with a new smuggler, and walked for two days. But he didn’t take us across the border. More smugglers came along the way and demanded more money. Finally, we arrived at Antakya, in Turkey at 3 in the morning. I quickly called a friend to come and pick us up, but I couldn’t relax. I was terrified that we would be caught again and sent back to Syria.”

In Turkey, Adnan had to find more money to cross the country and get to Ismir. “The story I am telling you now is much shorter and less miserable that what actually happened, It’s just brushing the surface of our miserable journey. I’m giving you the ‘lighter’ version.”

Getting from Ismir to Greece involved more negotiations, more smugglers and of course, more money. 

“They asked for $850 per adult, and we managed to negotiate that our three children would travel for $850 for the three of them. The smugglers had promised us life jackets but when we got to the boats, there were only two jackets, for my wife and I. They didn’t have life jackets for children, they said. I was very scared but there was no time to think, we couldn’t go back. You can’t negotiate with smugglers, they have weapons and there are stories of smugglers killing passengers who refuse to get on the boats or create a problem.”

“When we arrived on the island of Kios, Greece, I relaxed for the first time in months. I thought ‘Now we are safe, now my family is no longer in danger. After all this terrible journey, and all the suffering we endured, we have finally arrived in a good place.’” 


Photo: Clara Veale / Story: Voices of Refugees

Part 3

From Kios, Adnan and his family were moved to a refugee camp in mainland Greece and were given a tent to live in. The conditions in the camp are basic, the children don’t receive any formal education and health care is limited. The family largely depends on the charity of NGOs who have made it their mission to supply refugee camps across Greece with food, clothes, hygiene articles, and other items to restore the dignity of the residents of the camps. 

Adnan pulled a stunt online and put his tent on AirBnB for $100 a night. This stunt was covered across media outlets in Greece and abroad. He laughs when I ask him about it. “It was a joke. ‘Come and live in a luxury tent and sleep in a real refugee camp for a night!’” AirBnB took his ad down a couple of days later.

Photo: Clara Veale / Story: Voices of Refugees

Part 4

Adnan says he risked it all for his children. “My hopes are the same as any father. I want a good life for my children. I want them to go to a good school and grow up to be smart and good people.”

“I would like Europeans to know that Syrians are living through bad times now, and our country is suffering a lot. If we didn’t suffer, we wouldn’t come to Europe. You would understand if you were caught between ISIS and the Free Syrian Army, I promise.”

“If you hear about one Syrian person who had done something bad, don’t judge us all like him. We are all different, and most of us are just searching for safety. We are just looking for honest people to help us when they can. We hope you can support us, and welcome our children.”

Photo: Shayanne Gal / Story: Voices of Refugees

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