The Malta Independent 24 October 2020, Saturday

11 October 2013 Lampedusa survivor bought forged passport in Malta, reaches Germany

Associated Press Sunday, 12 October 2014, 10:30 Last update: about 7 years ago

On 11 October 2013 well over 200 Syrian irregular migrants lost their lives in an operation that saw roughly half the survivors being brought to Malta.  IN an interview with the Associated Press, one survivor who was brought to Malta tells the tale of how he later purchased a German ID in the name of Daniel Fischer for €180. With it, he got to Milan, where he paid human traffickers €350 to drive him on back roads across the Alps to Munich, Germany.

Following is the full text of the interview:


After shipwreck, refugee finds despair in Europe


It has been a year since the ship went down, and still the memories torment the Syrian refugee:

The father flailing in choppy seas grabbing a life jacket away from his little son;

The silence after the drowning children stopped screaming;

Young girls, face down in the water, long hair floating around their heads;

The dead baby he nearly bumped into as he swam for his life.

“Again and again, I relive those hours in the ocean after our ship sank,” says 25-year-old Mohammad Suleimane. He has to fold himself – pressing his skinny arms hard against his lap – to stop the shaking.

The young barber from Damascus was the only one of 13 family members to survive when the boat sank, killing more than 200 refugees, a year ago yesterday, off the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The path to Europe is the world’s most dangerous “irregular” migration route, according to the International Organisation for Migration. At least 22,000 people have died on that journey since 2000, it says, including at least 3,072 in the first nine months of this year. And those are only the ones it knows about: the true number, it says, is much higher.

Despite the dangers, the number of refugees risking the journey is growing, as war, poverty and environmental crisis drive people from places such as Syria, Gaza, Eritrea and Sudan. The most common route is through Libya, and then onto smugglers’ boats to cross 300 kilometres of the Mediterranean to the nearest piece of Europe – the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Suleimane followed that route. His family flew from Damascus to Cairo, then paid a smuggler to take them on a minibus to Benghazi in Libya. A few months later they had saved up $2,000 for Suleimane’s trip, and he joined several hundred other Syrians in a desert hideout, waiting for the right moment to set off.

His parents and siblings could not, at the time, afford their own passage, but with him were 12 aunts, uncles and cousins – including Ali and Duaa, who weeks earlier had married in a joyous wedding filled with laughter and dancing.

Suleimane had bought a new pair of jeans for that wedding – and when the group set off he was wearing them again.

When the ship went down, he swam as others sank. He swam for hours, until a Maltese boat plucked him from the sea. He was sent to a detention centre, along with the other survivors, and then transferred to a Maltese refugee camp within a week. He says he bought a forged German ID card in the name of Daniel Fischer for €180. With it, he got to Milan, where he paid traffickers €350 to drive him on back roads across the Alps to Munich.

From there, he boarded a train to Berlin, where he was taken in by relatives who have been living in Germany for decades.

He was still wearing his jeans, and would continue to do so for months – frayed mementos of joy and tragedy. They were the only palpable memory he had of happier times, even as they reminded him of the horror as well.

In Berlin, Suleimane withdrew into himself, hardly ever talking. Worried about him, his cousin took him to two psychologists. One wrote in his evaluation that the young man was “suicidal, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and should under no circumstances be separated from his relatives”.

But Germany, facing a steep surge in asylum applications, has strict rules – and it did exactly that.

Suleimane was prescribed antidepressants and sent to a refugee centre in Luebeck, three hours north of Berlin on the Baltic coast.

At the centre, Suleimane smokes three packs of cigarettes a day and barely eats. His big brown eyes are set deep in his gaunt face. He is obsessed with the sea, and spends days gazing out at the Baltic, haunted by his memories.

He fled Syria to escape the civil war, after being drafted to fight for President Bashar Assad’s army. Sometimes he thinks: “It might have been better to have simply died in Syria”.

The memories of home are so strong that in his mind he can smell the lamb shawarma and taste the sweet baklava.

Suleimane, who shares a wooden cabin with five or six other refugees, spends hours lying in bed and staring at the TV, even though he barely understands German.

Recently, a glimmer of light entered his life. His parents, little brother and five little sisters made it to Germany, taking the same perilous route that he had taken a year ago. An Italian ship rescued them from their rickety boat.

Now Suleimane is slowly gathering the will to move on. He hopes to win his case for asylum and maybe open a barbers shop in Berlin.

Recently, he folded the jeans and put them away in the back of his cupboard.

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