Hüda’s journey from Syria to Edirne and then to Lesbos

10-months-old Hüda and her family arrived at Lesbos after a long and difficult journey that started in Der Zor, Syria. Journalist Pınar Yurtsever met them and Rukiyya, who was also coming from Der Zor, during the sit-in protest that hundreds of refugees staged on the highway in Edirne and she wrote the escape story of these families.

On the night of September 18, we saw that the last 10 kilometers of the road to Edirne was blocked. The police made some arrangements, so we proceeded a little bit more and then stopped. I got out of the vehicle with the TV crew and began to walk toward the crowd. We realized that people are lying on the ground, so we were careful not to step on them; then, the cameramen turned on the camera’s light and the strangest scene that I have ever seen was before my eyes. Almost 2000 thousand people were lying on the ground in the impenetrable darkness.  The people were looking like a river that flows in the dark. The moment I saw that six kids just fell asleep where they were lying, I realized that it is impossible to describe this scene to anybody. It seemed as if there was an earthquake and the world fell into pieces and everybody dashed out.

I met Hüda, ten-months-old baby of a Syrian family, at the morning after that night. While the refugees sitting on the TEM highway were shouting some slogans in front of the police barricade, Hüda’a father left her on the ground and she started to crawl on all fours toward the police. At that moment, Reuters correspondent Osman Orsal and EPA correspondent Tolga Bozoğlu pressed the shutter and I thought that this shot will have a broad repercussion in European media and it actually did. Crawling toward the police with her red hair and white pajamas, Hüda became the topic of the day in Europe. So, we began to look for Hüda with the TV crew that I worked with.

Tolga Bozoğlu / EPA

The crowd on the highway broke up after they waited there for days and most of them were taken to an area in Sarayiçi, where Kırkpınar wrestling festival is traditionally held. We were looking for Hüda by showing her photograph to people. Some people thought that we are cops and some of them thought that we have lost our child. Finally, we found Hüda. As soon as she came to Sarayiçi, they bathed her, combed her hair and washed her clothes. Her hands were white as snow.

Hüda’s mother Rawa and her father Fatih can only speak Arabic, so her aunt Rukiyya introduced them to me. In fact, Rukiyya is not her real aunt, they met ten days ago when they hit the road from Der Zor together, but Rukiyya was embracing Hüda like a real aunt. Their only hope was to go to Greece and then proceed to northern Europe. “Europe won’t be easier for any of us, but we have to go there. We are more accustomed to Turkey in terms of traditions and the way of life, but living in Turkey is really hard,” said Rukiyya. She is an English teacher and has two children. She couldn’t have taught since the beginning of the war and her children couldn’t have gone to school, so she tried to home-school her children, though she thinks that the children have to go to school.

That day, we parted with Hüda and continued our research on Syrian refugees, but I was keep thinking about Hüda. The next day, I talked to Rukiyya and found out that they went to Istanbul and contacted to someone in order to go to Greece. She didn’t want to reveal the identities of the people they contacted, but later she told me that she did this in order to protect me. Obviously, their contacts are smugglers and dangerous. They didn’t even know from where they will depart for Greece. When I asked her how they will go, she told me that when their contact calls them, they will get on a bus and after a short drive, they will get on a boat and go to Greece.

I was spending hours just thinking about Hüda. Every time I thought about her, the picture of Aylan that shows him lying dead on the shore was flashing before my eyes. I couldn’t help to think that that red haired baby’s destiny might end up like Aylan.

Rukiyya and her kids.

The next day, Rukiyya called me. She told me that they tried to go to Greece the night before, but the military police had stopped them and sent them back and they will try it again anyway. After this phone call, I called Rukiyya for several times, but I couldn’t have reached her. I was feeling desperate. I was just following the news reports and checking whether there is any report about the boats that carry refugees.

Going to Lesbos from Çanakkale or Ayvalık costs 1200€ for adults and 600€ for the children under the age of 2. Hüda’s parents said that they didn’t pay anything for her. Though this is the most expensive part of the journey, there is more to it. The expenses reach almost 2000€ per person until reaching Lesbos. The two families from Der Zor went to Kilis, Gaziantep, Mersin, Ankara, İstanbul, Edirne, İstanbul again and finally they reached Lesbos.

Two days passed and Rukiyya called me in the morning. That woman, who escaped from war, ISIS and many other things, was sounding happy for the first time. “We are in Greece, we have just arrived.” She didn’t even know to which island they arrived. After few hours, she learned that they were in Lesbos.

The moment we received this information, we headed to Lesbos. The next day, we came together with Hüda and her family. Each of them was smiling.

48 people in a boat for 15 people

The smugglers that charged them 1200€ per person took them to Çanakkale by bus and gave them a boat. They told them to inflate the boat and leave as soon as possible. Rukiyya said, “I couldn’t have informed you, because there were two people with rifles waiting on the shore.” However, for them, the sea itself was scarier than the guns. One of the smugglers got on the boat and after he started the engine, he jumped into sea and left them to their fate. Rukiyya’s husband had to drive the boat. According to a refugee from Erbil who was on the boat with them, there were 48 people on that boat which is for 15 people. Rukiyya told that they were like sitting on top of each other. Rukiyya said that when the boat stopped in the middle of the sea in the impenetrable darkness, they were so scared that it felt like a near-death experience.

Rukiyya has been to 9 different places for last 4 years because of the war and she lived in Der Zor under the ISIS rule and witnessed too many deaths, but when I asked her what was the scariest thing that she has ever experienced, she said, “Crossing the sea.”

When I saw Hüda for the last time, she was peacefully sleeping under a tree on Lesbos port.

After Lesbos, they went to Macedonia, Serbia and Crotia. Hüda’s parents want to go to Netherlands. Rukiyya and her husband haven’t made their minds yet. They say that they might go to Sweden or Denmark.

A refugee from Iraq who was on the same boat to Lesbos with these families told that he found the smugglers in Aksaray. Telling that the smugglers came with a car after they arrived at the place where they will get on the boat, he said that two Azeri, one Arab and three Turkish men were among the smugglers. He also added that 8-10 smuggler groups work together and their boss is from Syria.


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Pınar Yurtsever