Following of Céline Barré’s chronicle on the road of the exiles in the Balkans.
Lesbos – Athens 22h – September 13
Faces relieved, soothed. These faces have left the island and the painful memory of crossing the “death sea”. This time they are in a boat, a real one, not the one that inflates, not the one who drowns us in a freezing sea, not that we pay 1200 euros to risk life in the name of freedom. This boat brings us to mainland Europe. Some had to wait more than 10 days to leave the island, waiting for their “permission” to leave the island. “The liberty paper” … I‘m not quite sure.
Their faces seem so relieved that concerned. The face of women especially mothers. Those who will carry their children to move through 2000 km. Televisions on the boat show reports on “the waves of migrants” blocked at the borders, violent police officers, the kids crying. The faces tense up, the journey is just beginning. I share this anxiety, I would warn them that this Europe hurts, this Europe is repressive, violent, merciless. I would tell them about Calais, these people who are herded into camps outside the cities, the police, the asylum procedure, which sometimes lasts for two years, the risk of expulsion, the detention centers, intimidations. I would tell them to be prepared, they need to remain on guard. But I do not dare. On the quay of the port, we meet a Syrian father of 59, he was a French teacher in Damascus, he lived 3 years in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1999. He said he had come with dignity, with a visa. He said he has nothing more to expect from life, he has already been taken everything from him, but he came with and for his son. He wants him to start again his studies, him to go to the University of Montpellier to become a pharmacist. He corrects me on my grammar, told me I could use the simple past more fluently. I keep quite and I rephrase my sentence, it amuses him. This father makes me think of my own, what he would do if we were at war? Is what he decides to cross the sea on an inflatable boat with 62 other people at risk that I drown? Would he decide for me to travel 2000 km on foot in order to register for university? This father is diabetic, he still has two months of injections, he feels weak, tired. He asks me if I’ve seen a tramp … then he smiles at me and tell me that this tramp is in front of me. The tramp, that’s him. For me, I see only one father. Hussein, his teenage son, wants to go to France, his father decided otherwise, they will go to Sweden and when he is old enough to go to university, he will go to Montpellier, the most famous. They will go to Sweden because there, he can bring the rest of his children more quickly than if he would decide to settle in France. How could my father choose between his children? This idea anguish me, to separate with my brothers, my mother. How it comes to that? It’s simple. Fleeing his country is perhaps not the main difficulty, arriving in France or Germany is an obstacle course. I think back to the images of refugees who are applauded the station. These images comfort me as they create a real discomfort. These people who arrive in these stations have sometimes left their wives and kids at home because they had no choice. No visa. Leaving as soon as possible, to arrive as quickly as possible, get papers as soon as possible and bring the family as soon as possible. The Syrian father paid 2,400 euros to cross a sea of 10 km that separates Turkey from the Greek island of Lesbos, whereas if I want to go for a ride in Turkey, it’s an hour ride to only 10 euros. Me European, I pay 10 euros to Turkey while he will pay 2400 euros to come to Lesbos. He can actually be applauded in a railway station but he certainly has other concerns and would prefer to legally arrive at Charles De Gaulle Terminal 1 with all his family and on the most anonymous way possible. Borders and those who control them are decimating families.