“We didn’t understand why they were shooting; none of us were armed, and there were children on board!”
I’m a Palestinian from Damascus, Syria. I fled Syria just 14 days ago, by plane, with my husband and two children, who are 2 and 4. Most countries wouldn’t let us in; Egypt was pretty much our only option. We had planned to settle there, but quickly realised that Syrians weren’t welcome. [Since former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was ousted in early July, Syrian refugees report increasing harassment.]We decided to try to get to Sweden, which is much more welcoming toward refugees. We had to pay smugglers 3,000 dollars (about 2,200 euros) per adult so they would take us by boat to Italy; from there, we would have had to pay an additional 1,000 euros each to get to Sweden. On Monday night, the smugglers locked all 150 of us in a building that was under construction; in the morning, they took us to the beach, where we boarded a small boat that took us to a bigger one. This second boat was supposed to take us to a third that would go all the way to Italy, but we didn’t get that far.Children waiting to disembark, following the death of two refugees. Photo published on Facebook by Refugees Solidarity Movement.When the coast guard approached and started shooting, everyone panicked. We didn’t understand why they were shooting; none of us were armed, and there were children on board! We refused to leave the boat, and tried to call Egyptian media outlets; a few journalists were there when the boat arrived at the port, but the soldiers wouldn’t let them talk to us. We were forced to get off the boat and were promised we wouldn’t be jailed, but then they locked us up in the detention centre. We’ve been here for three days now and don’t know when we’ll be let out. Everyone here is traumatised. We feel like we aren’t safe anywhere.Refugees wait to unboard the boat. Photo published on Facebook by Refugees Solidarity Movement.
“The smugglers beat us, hit us, and refused to give us water”
I fled the violence in Syria nine months ago. I had a good job in Syria, but in Cairo, I couldn’t find any work. I was running out of money, and I have a wife and two children to support. Through friends, I heard about an Egyptian smuggler who, for 7,000 US dollars, would take my whole family from Alexandria to Italy. We hoped to go to Sweden from there.We left the beach in a small boat, which took us to a bigger boat, in which there were dozens of other refugees, both Palestinians from Syria and regular Syrians. But there were huge waves, and during the transfer, one of the smugglers got caught between the two boats and was badly injured. They continued on anyway, and 10 hours later, he died of his wounds. The smugglers decided to turn back. Nobody protested, and in fact I was relieved – they were behaving horribly with us, beating us, insulting us, refusing to give us water. They were all high on drugs. They weren’t sailors, really; they were criminals.They dropped us off on a small island just off the coast of Alexandria, called Nelson’s Island. It was deserted; we spent a night there before calling the Egyptian army to come rescue us."The dentention centre is so dirty that the children are getting skin diseases”Since then, we’ve been living in terrible conditions in this detention centre, which is located in a police station. It’s overcrowded; we have no mattresses, no blankets. Even the children have to sleep on the hard floor. Many of them, including my children, now have skin diseases because it’s so dirty here.Refugees sleeping on the ground at Montaza 2nd Police Station's detention quarters in Alexandria.Photo published on Facebook by Refugees Solidarity Network.A few days after we first arrived, we were given the option of being deported to Lebanon. Most of the 130 people from my boat decided to go; 17 of us stayed. I would have gone, but my infant child, who was born in Egypt, didn’t have the necessary papers. We were joined three days ago by the people from the second boat, who are very rattled by the deaths they witnessed. None of us know when we will be freed. [According to Alexandria human rights lawyer Mahinour El-Masry, they are not the only ones waiting to be set free: he says a total of 512 refugees are currently being detained in the city’s prisons.]And when we are, I don’t know what I will do – I have very little money left, and won’t risk trying to go to Europe again. It’s simply too dangerous. So we’re stuck.