Migrants Set Off For Europe, Despite Others' Tragic Tales

Migrants Set Off For Europe, Despite Others' Tragic Tales

7:21pm Sep 14, 2015

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Here's a small reminder - a toddler, famously photographed, drowned on a beach as his family fled Syria was just one of many. The image could just as well have represented 34 people drowned after their boat sank over the weekend. They were trying to move, as thousands do, from Turkey to Greece. We have reporters on either end of that route, part of a great migrant route, from the war-torn Middle East to Europe. NPR's Peter Kenyon is on the Turkish coast. We go to him first.

Peter, you're where people start. What's it like there?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, I'm on the coast near Ayvalik. It's one of several places that Syrians and other foreigners are massing, waiting to get onto boats to get over to Greece. From here, you can see the Greek island of Lesbos about 10 miles away, just a couple hours up the coast from here. It's less than five miles for the trip.

And we've been talking to Syrians who are getting worried about how much harder it's getting to make the trip. They're worried about the weather getting worse. And what we're seeing, though, is that they are determined to get away from the horrors they've seen in Syria, and they are heading to sea. The Turkish Coast Guard says it rescued more than 150 people over the weekend.

INSKEEP: But so tantalizing, I don't think I realized that Greece is actually in sight from where you are.

KENYON: It's very close, especially at night, which is when the traveling happens. The lights are very prominent. And there's other islands' coasts. There are several where from the Turkish coast you can see Greece, you can see Europe.

INSKEEP: And over the weekend, one of these boats started off. And Joanna Kakissis is the next reporter to join us. She is on the Greek side. She's in Athens right now. Joanna, what happened to that boat?

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Well, the boat capsized. It was a wooden fishing boat, overcrowded with people, as it usually is. And the boat made the crossing to a small island called Farmakonisi. It's a very common and popular crossing. So the boat capsized. Thirty-four people, as you mentioned, are dead, including 15 children. At least four of those children were babies. The sea was very rough. And the coast guard managed to rescue 68 people, and another 30 more swam to shore. The survivors are now on the island of Leros.

And there's a longtime aid network there - a good one - that deals with people once they land. It's a totally volunteer network. And I spoke to one of the aid workers this morning. She said the families are Syrian and Iraqi. And she spent most of the morning with a Syrian mother who lost both of her children in this terrible tragedy. And the mother kept praying to God for a miracle - please, please, God, let me find at least one of them. The aid worker was just in tears watching her.

INSKEEP: So thousands of people have died in recent times trying to make this crossing. Let me go back to Peter Kenyon on the Turkish side. Peter, are people aware of the perils of this leg of the journey? Does anybody warn them not to go?

KENYON: I think the officials are definitely warning them not to go - migration experts, refugee experts, asylum people, aid workers. And they know. They're well aware of these pictures of the young boy who was drowned, and they hear the reports very quickly when things go wrong. And here in Turkey, it's getting worse because they are now being registered in the towns that they're in and they're not being allowed to move. The border crossings with Syria are closing or down to a trickle. So the entire journey is getting more difficult. The reliance on smuggling networks is getting greater. And that, of course, comes at great peril and great cost.

INSKEEP: Joanna, you've covered this story for quite some time. Is there one moment that gets across for you the human cost of all this?

KAKISSIS: I've been hearing stories of people's fear in making this crossing many times. But there was one story that a teacher I've been spending a lot of time with - a teacher from Hama named Munzer Omar (ph). He's from Syria. And he talked about a relative who made this very journey on a wooden boat, just like the one that capsized yesterday, with lots of people. It was crowded.

And the boat capsized. And the man was in the water, holding onto his son by his son's life jacket. His son is just 3 years old. And he held onto his son by his teeth so he could keep swimming and the child wouldn't be lost under the water. And they swam this way for seven hours - seven hours. And the family was so traumatized that they returned to Syria, and they say they won't make the boat journey again.

INSKEEP: Reporter Joanna Kakissis and our colleague Peter Kenyon in Turkey. Thanks to you both.

KAKISSIS: Thanks, Steve.

KENYON: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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