12 years old, Syria

“I was born in Syria but I left after two years. I have five sisters and one brother. Two of my sisters are already married. I grew up in Lebanon.

One year ago, I came back from Lebanon to Syria through the mountains. I stayed in a house in the mountains until a bus took me to Damascus and then to Nawa. My uncle works at the immigration office and he issued a new passport for me. I stayed for a month and a half and went back to Lebanon with a group of other people. At that time, the Syrian army shot us. There was a woman with us and she was injured in the leg. After a while, the Syrian army arrested all of us and took us to one of the Palestine Security Forces agency.  

I stayed there for five days, then they released me but they kept my phone. I came back to Nawa. I did not think that I would go to Libya. I heard from people that they were traveling to Libya in order to reach Europe. I called my father in Lebanon to tell him, he approved and booked me a flight from Damascus to Benghazi. My father knew someone who lived in Libya for ten years. I stayed for days in one hotel there. The Syrian family on board also came to the same hotel. We all left in a car to Tripoli. We stayed in Tripoli in a house belonging to the smugglers for two weeks. He brought us food and water but we were not allowed to leave. 

We tried to cross the sea at Eid Al Adha 2021 from Zwara. We took a fiberglass boat with 17 people and we spent 14 hours at sea . One person on board was Libyan. The Libyan coastguard stopped us and brought us to Ghout Al Shaal (Al-Mabani DC). They did not touch the families, but they beat the men who were traveling alone. Once we arrived in Ghout Al Shaal, they took everything. I had 300 dollars, a phone and a passport. The guards were all drunk. It was a huge hangar with 600/700 people, but they took the families to a different room. I stayed in the room with the families. They separated the men from the women and children, and after some days, they facilitated the visit of the men outside in a garden. The food was rubbish. We stayed five days and they released us. The guards gave our phones back but they were all broken. They did not beat us but we heard the screaming on the side of the men.

The smuggler was on the coast and he could see us because we were not far. After five hours, the sun rose and two boats approached us but they did not help.

We managed to find a phone and call the same smuggler who facilitated the journey. He sent a car and we were brought back to the house where we had stayed before. We stayed two months in the house. The smuggler was angry with us, he did not want us there. He asked us to pay 250 dollars each in order to fix the engines of the boat. The night the smuggler decided to send us to the boat,it was very windy with rough sea and many people refused to get onto  the boat. The family refused to get on but I decided to go. After 15 minutes, the boat capsized and we were all in the water. The waves were quite high. One young man who was 16 and who had traveled with me from the beginning drowned. A man who was Egyptian or Syrian took me from the water and put me on the top of the boat. I stayed there for five hours and a half. The smuggler was on the coast and he could see us because we were not far. After five hours, the sun rose and two boats approached us but they did not help. Then, the Libyan coastguard from Zwara came and rescued us. There had been more than one boat that had capsized. The coastguard rescued us, and they went somewhere else to rescue another boat. There was a Moroccan woman with a baby. When she passed her baby to the coast guards, the baby fell in the water. She tried to jump in the water to get him but they stopped her. The baby disappeared in the water.

When we arrived at the port, there was a man who worked there, he put me on the side and hid me so I would not be taken to the prison. He gave me his phone and I called my father to explain everything. My father said on the phone that I had to come back. He wanted to book me a flight to Syria but I said no. I had to travel to Europe to help my brother who is three years old and who is sick. He has something in the brain. My father gave me the number of Ahmed, the head of the Syrian family who was on board with me. I called him and managed to join him.

Moyed called the smuggler, named Mustafa. When Fadi came, he was surprised to see me and said ‘you are supposed to be in the sea, what happened? I have seen the boat capsized’. I told them that the 16-year-old-man had drowned but Fadi did not believe me and said that he was still alive and in prison, even if I saw him dead with my own eyes. I stayed at Fadi’s house for another five months but I had to leave. I stayed with the uncle of Moyed in a flat, then with another Syrian family. We managed to try crossing again on a wooden boat with 500 people. The Libyan coastguard stopped us after one hour. At the port, they took all our belongings and released the families, so I did not go to prison again. 

After the release, we managed to meet another smuggler, Marwan, who facilitated a journey with another wooden boat with almost 500 people. He said that they paid money to the Libyan coastguard so that they would facilitate our journey. When we went on the boat, the coastguard accompanied us. After a while, they left and we continued sailing. Then, they came back to check on us and see that everything was fine. At some point, we got lost and did not know where to go. We called the smuggler and he told us to sail towards the Tunisian waters because the water was calmer there. After five days in the sea, we got stuck on a strand of sand. The waves raised the boat and we moved again. Then we found a Tunisian fisherman who helped us.

The Tunisian army approached us and brought us to Tunisia. We could decide if we wanted to continue the journey or if we wanted to go with them. When we reached the shore, the army put us in cars and drove us to the border between Tunisia and Libya. They said ‘if you want to go to Libya, here is the way, but if you come back to Tunisia we will shoot you’. At this moment, I was with a few families and three Egyptian men. We crossed the border, and someone on the Libyan side guided us to the coast. On the coast, the smuggler came to pick us up and took us to his house. I moved again to stay with the family I was staying with before. After a few months, my father called me and said there was another smuggler, a woman who could facilitate the journey. We stayed for one month in Zwara waiting for the departure. She did not ask for any money from me and the place was nice. There was a garden.

We tried another crossing and we managed to sail for 30 miles before the engine broke. We called the smuggler, and the man working with her brought another engine. It came inside of a box and it seemed new but it did not work properly. When the light started to appear, the person who was driving our boat called the smuggler again and said that we were seeing a big ship, and the smuggler said to come towards them, ‘this is the rescue ship’. Then, the small boats came and they rescued us. 

When I arrive in Europe, I want to go to Belgium because I have my uncle there who has Belgian nationality. Belgium is fast in the asylum process and in the family reunification process.”