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Smuggled to Europe: From the Middle East to Greece

By Ottavia Mossetto and Enno Schöningh

*All names are changed to protect the identities of the people interviewed.

“While we were squeezed in the vessel, something touched the boat,” Mehrang said. “It was a corpse of a drowned person floating downstream. We assumed it was a refugee who could not swim.”

When normal people become refugees, they run.

Mehrang, his wife and daughter left Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan and travelled over 5,000 kilometers to Greece.

Many refugees say they are facing the ultimate step in a life of abuses and decide to leave for a better life: a more democratic country, a richer economy, a safer place.

“I fled to run away from an abusive father and an inexistent government,” Mehrang said. “A state that is not able to guarantee security to its citizens can hardly be considered by anyone as home.”

According to Hajira, who fled Afghanistan with her husband and baby a few months ago, fleeing is the last option. She says that no one wants to voluntarily leave their home and their social environment behind.

By Water

During their escape, people cross country borders with the help of human traffickers. To be smuggled illegally can cost thousands of euros.

Artwork by Ottavia Mossetto

“We spend more than 8000 euros for smugglers,” Mehrang said. “They are connected. One smuggler takes you to the Turkish border, another helps you to cross. The next one picks you up beyond the border and drives you further inland. The smugglers are often drugged, because they have to control their anxiety. If they are caught, the consequences are severe.”

Mehrang described the hardships he and his family endured during their journey from Afghanistan to Greece.

“To cross the Iranian-Turkish border we had to hike up and down two mountains,” Mehrang said.It was extremely cold. When I lit a cigarette, I did not smoke it but kept it in my fist to warm my frozen hands. That’s how cold it was.”

According to Mehrang, a part of the Greek-Turkish border is constituted by a river. They crossed the 200 meter wide river by boat.

“While we were squeezed in the vessel, something touched the boat,” Mehrang said. “It was a corpse of a drowned person floating downstream. We assumed it was a refugee who could not swim.”

By Land

The human flow is composed of people from different social classes. Depending on the financial situation, people have to choose between different routes to cross the Turkish-Greek border.

“Some people do not know how to swim but they crowd up on boats because it is the cheapest way,” Mehrang said. “To be smuggled from Turkey to Greece by land costs 2,000 euros per person. To cross the Aegean Sea costs 300 to 500 euros per adult. So many people can only afford the cheapest option.”

Faireh and his family seek asylum in Europe. According to Faireh, once they crossed the Turkish-Greek border by land, they waited for two days in the forest hiding from the police.

Mehrang’s escape route. Image created as result of Mehrang’s detailed narration.

“The smugglers told us to wait there,” Faireh said. “We were around 20 people laying on the ground, covered with plastic bags. It was winter, and my wife was five months pregnant. My two girls of 4 and 6 years old were cold and hungry. We had just one bag of food with us for the whole journey.”

After Faireh’s family stayed in the forest they continued their journey to Thessaloniki, Greece where refugee camps are located.

“When we finally arrived in Thessaloniki we tried to enter in a camp, but they would not allow us in,” Faireh said. “We slept 22 days in front of it. Many others were in the same condition.”


This article was created as result of a volunteering experience in Athens with the NGO Cribs International. The organisation is an emergency relief organisation that helps families with pregnant women in their third trimester and, or with infants up to 12 months. It provides them with housing and a small pocket money, sufficient for alimentation.

The article is a result of the experiences narrated to us volunteers by the people we met in Athens. Most of them are Afghan families.


*This was part of a larger story that was featured in the January 2019 print edition.

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