Eden, an Eritrean asylum seeker, was close to dying when the Syrian guy intentionally tried to sink the boat
“The sinking of our boat was the most dramatic event in my life. The water had risen up to our chests. We started to bail out the water with small plastic containers, but it was not enough.We panicked, screaming and yelling,” Eden explains. She is 28 years old, from Eritrea and seeking asylum in Denmark.
Tricked in Turkey
This happened in July 2009. On the sea, in completely darkness, with no stars to bring the light. Only a dark sky and dark sea between Turkey and Greece.
“Our final goal was one of the Scandinavia countries. Our contact brought us to the Turkish coast, where we waited for one day and one night for safe conditions to cross the sea to Greece. From there we should go by plane. But the last in a series of traffikers tricked us.”
The overcrowded ship
The group consisted of people from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Senegal, Ghana and Syria who had all traveled far from their home countries; by public transport, in small closed vans, or by foot. They used fake travel documents and payed many different men to help them.
“We were twenty five in the group and the plastic boat was large enough for a maximum ten people. When we saw what we were supposed to sail in, and because most of us did not know how to swim, we began to argue with the man who was arranging it because we could see we had been tricked. We had paid money to be transported in larger, proper, safe boat which one of the contacts was supposed to provide.
The quarrel was unsuccessful. We had no choice, we couldn’t go back. We climbed into the boat and each in their own language prayed to God to help us in this sea crossing.
We had been tricked again, but only noticed it once we were on the boat on the open sea.
There was supposed to be a captain to navigate the boat, but instead the smuggler had made an agreement with two of us, a Syrian and a Sudanese to navigate the boat. Neither the Syrian nor Sudanese had any experience. The one was taking directions on his mobile phone from the contact still on the coast, and passing the information on to the other, who was steering the boat.”
Eden can not say exactly how long they had been in the boat; it seemed like an eternity. When she looked at the other passengers’ faces, she saw the fear and despair. ”Only God is able to help us,” she thought.
Suddenly the sea became rough, water was poring in and they couldn’t drain it out.
“Never before in my life have I directly faced death. We didn’t know how to swim; the water will take us, we were screaming. Everyone started crying and shouting in panic. You could hear curses and prayers. We four girls from Eritrea held hands and prayed crying at the same time. I felt it would be my last day. I will be one of the many immigrants drowned.”
Between the fear
Suddenly they noticed a light in a distance. In that moment it was as if time had stopped. All eyes were pointed towards the flash. In disbelief, they realized that it was approaching. Soon they recognized a coastguard’s lifeboat.
“I can not exactly define my feelings. They were mixed; fear of certain death by drowning and fear of the police and prison, the consequence that awaits illegal immigrants in Greece. I can’t remember whether I was pleased at that moment and if I considered their arrival a rescue.”
The conflict on the ship
But this still was not the end of their drama at sea.
“Suddenly I noticed that the Syrian guy, who had navigated the boat, was holding a knife. I was shocked. He was kneeling trying to strike the bottom of the boat with the blade. I didn’t know what was going on. Some of men started to argue with him and pushed him in an attempt to snatch the knife, but unsuccessfully. The man with the knife was frightened and yelling and occasionally looking toward the oncoming ship. He spoke Arabic, which I did not understand.
”Suddenly I was very cold. I became aware that I was all wet and semi-stiff.”
The coast guard’s ship was approaching very fast. A Senegalese explained to Eden what was happening. The Syrian guy’s intention had been to pierce the boat and let them all drown. He feared he would be accused of trafficking because he had been steering the boat. He preferred to die rather than be sentenced for people smuggling.
“A guy from Sudan managed to convince the Syrian that we will not betray him. We would agree to say that the boat was operated by a Turk, who had jumped into the water when he saw rescuers. We kept the promise.
So, half-drowned, frozen and scared we were switched to the coast guard’s ship.
”Thank God everything had gone OK in the end.”