Let's Talk About The Time I Fled On A Rubber Boat

By Mostafa Tellerfadi
21 February 2019
photo by Cera Hensley
One asylum seeker’s journey to safe land reflects the stories of many

Let’s talk about the time I fled on a rubber boat.

It was August 4, 2016.

I was with a group of 60 people, all of whom had slept on a mountain in Turkey for two days, where we were stranded after our smugglers’ car broke down. Finally, they returned for us, and we eventually embarked on the crossing to Greece – what everyone calls ‘the Journey of Death.’

My home in Aleppo had been smashed by a bomb attack. I wanted to go to Europe to continue my life in a safe place and find stability. I dreamed of completing my university studies.

We inflated our six-metre-long rubber boat. The women and children sat in the centre of it and the men were positioned on the sides. The boat was beyond over-packed, but we had a lot of faith in God. We started sailing.

Less than an hour had passed in what was supposed to be a trip of only a few hours, when the waves grew higher, the sea more aggressive. The boat was flying off of the water and crashing back down. Fear overtook everyone. The calls and cries for God to help us grew louder. Half of the distance of our journey passed through this horror, the certainty that we would all drown. The waves became so high that water started to come into the boat. The boat began to sink, death closing in. The sea had no mercy, but we still had faith.

I had an idea: Why don’t the men jump out of the boat, giving the elderly, the women and the children a greater chance of survival? I shouted this idea out loud. No one reacted; everyone was too scared. After all, the thought of death by drowning is not so pleasant.

Still, something had to be done. So I stood up and jumped.

I expected that when others saw me jump into the sea, they would find the courage within them to do the same. No one did, except for my friend, Ziad. By jumping out, we made the boat lighter by 150kg. That turned out to be enough to save everyone. The boat eventually arrived on the shore of Lesvos Island, and everyone who was still on it was finally safe. Ziad and I, however, had been left behind, far, far away in the sea. We cried for God to save us.

For five hours, we attempted to stay alive, to stay afloat in the sea. We swallowed so much sea water, our hearts were exhausted, our lungs filled with water, our limbs were very sore. We finally lost hope. I praised and thanked God for everything.

When I realised that death was approaching, I made the conscious decision to die while sleeping. That seemed better than suffocating. I wanted to be able to tell the ones who loved me that I was okay, but I gave up. I fell asleep and eventually lost consciousness.

Then God wrote me a different fate. A wave splashed my face and woke me up. I thought I had died in the middle of the sea. I saw a ship sailing towards us. I screamed and cried tears of happiness. The ship pulled up right next to us. The lifeguards from the ship threw us a plastic ring, a life preserver. I supported my body on the ring and fell unconscious again. I woke up later in a hospital on Lesvos Island, Greece. Ziad and I were safe and sound, all praise and thanks be to God.

I’ve been in Greece for nearly two and half years now, with a year and a half of that on Lesvos Island. On Lesvos I lived for 10 months in a refugee camp called Moria. The camp is set up for 2500 people, but is far over capacity, and is today home to around 10,000 people. It was horrible to live there, in a small tent that was overheated in summer and freezing in winter. On top of that, with so many people in such a small space, with limited facilities, access to food and bathrooms was difficult – if you did reach the front of the line, the facilities were not nice.

I have been in Greece far longer than I expected, with long wait times for each stage of the asylum process.

This is the same for most asylum seekers in Greece today. In 2018, 32,497 people made their journey to Greece, as of yet the number of deaths while crossing are not counted. The total number of asylum seeker arrivals in Greece since 2014 is over a million, with 1696 so far counted as dead or missing. But we are not numbers, we are people with lives, families, and dreams.

Globally, many of the world’s leaders are showing anti-immigration tendencies, which I cannot understand. It is extremely difficult to live in our countries; people are dying because of the war, because of no food. There is no electricity or internet. What are we supposed to do? Rather than turn immigrants away, countries should be assisting our needs and offering safe ways to escape danger instead of forcing millions of people to take dangerous journeys, like the trip I had to make.

Recently Ilhan Omar, a former Somali refugee, was voted into US congress, which gives me faith in people, even if leaders of some countries can’t see our value. So many refugees have so much to offer to the countries they end up living in – working as teachers, doctors, scientists, and more. All we want is a safe place to live in and contribute to.

Some people see this, I just wish that more would.