domenica, Novembre 28

Refugees: ‘Daddy, why don’t we take the airplane to Europe?’

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In 2012, Delvan and his family fled the bombing of Aleppo. They first went to Afrin, their city of origin in northern Syria, today firmly under the control of the Syria-Kurdish militia YPG. Those were the last days the whole family spent together. Their ancient village on the slopes of a green valley is no longer the paradise it once was, and it has not been for a very long time, since the countryside was neglected by the Assad regime and strangled by the war – no electricity, no water, no income, no education. They had to move to Istanbul, where Delvan and his sister worked at low wages and struggled to pay the rent. To guarantee an education for their children Roliana and Ariana, they decided to go to Izmir, cross the Mediterranean, and eventually join their family in Belgium.

Foto di Pieter Stockmans

Foto di Pieter Stockmans

CAPTION: Their ancient village on the slopes of a green valley is no longer the paradise it once was.


Days 1-2: Izmir, rain and wind
“We have doubted long enough; it is now or never,” says Delvan, as he gazes at the quiet sea in the port of Izmir. “I will have to risk the lives of my children to give them a future. It’s not easy.’

Foto di Pieter Stockmans

Foto di Pieter Stockmans

CAPTION: Delvan gazes at the sea in the port of Izmir: ‘I have to risk the lives of my children to give them a future.’


Ten days ago, his wife Rokan and daughters Roliana, 5, and Ariana, 4, and baby Nouri had already attempted to cross to Greece. Their rubber boat filled up with water and was intercepted by the Turkish coastguard. They were imprisoned for a week and then released.

Now, they’re staying with a host family in a working-class district of Izmir. Every day, Delvan meets his smuggler Abu Salah at a smoky tea house. The man is a distant relative of his wife, Rokan.

Suddenly, the sky above fills with bad news: rain and wind. “No Europe,” Delvan says, disappointed. “I don’t care any more if we die! I just want to get out of here! I have been promising my children for weeks now: ‘tomorrow’, ‘tomorrow’. And every time, I go home empty-handed.” Back at the house, little Roliana senses that something is wrong. “Why can’t I take the airplane? I don’t want to die!’ she shouts angrily.

Day 3: Izmir, bad news
Roliana sings in the rain on the way to Abu Salah’s home. He is offering a new opportunity: to cross on a large, safe yacht for 3,000 euros ($3,260) – twice the amount Delvan had anticipated for the trip to Greece, meaning the money he’d set aside to continue their journey through Europe will end up in the pockets of smugglers and mafiosi.

Foto di Pieter Stockmans

Foto di Pieter Stockmans

CAPTION: Roliana sings in the rain on the way to the smuggler’s home where her father Delvan is going to make a deal.


“You are lucky you didn’t go yesterday,” Abu Salah says over a cup of coffee. “Last night, I sent out two rubber dinghies. One was sent back by the Turkish coastguard. About the other one, I did not receive any news.” “If something happens at sea, I call the coastguards to determine the location of the boat,” he says. “Many smugglers are just collecting the money; I want the refugees to cross the sea safely. After two years on the job, I can say that not a single one of my boats has sunk.”

Abu Salah calls the Greek coastguard. “Maybe they are in the bellies of the fish,” the Greek official jokes on the phone. Roliana packs her backpack, which she has been carrying around, ready to leave for Europe. Finally the redemption seems near: Tonight they will go out to sea. But a few hours later, Abu Salah informs them that one of the other families “was not ready yet”. Rokan collapses and says that she wants to return to Syria. Delvan peers into the distance, sad, beyond despair. Tonight they are not at sea, but lying in bed in Izmir.

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