The stretch along the coastline from the castle to the modern marina in Bodrum is a mere kilometer at best. Trees provide relative shade in the noon sun. The now bustling coastal town, a brand in summer tourism, used to be a sleepy fishing village not that long ago. The view from this walkway used to harbor only wooden gullets (sailboats typical to this region) waiting to shuttle tourists to the nearby islands and coves. But now that stretch is taken over by people seeking a way out of this country, a new life, livelihood and possibly safety in Europe. Bodrum is now at the heart of a large and desperate mass exodus of people. It has become a main hub, a mid-way for victims of forced migration.
The coastguard offices are located at the marina. As I enter, I’m warmly welcomed. A young liutenant tells me they are pulling human bodies off the sea almost every night. He looks exhausted in his spotless white uniform. “We used to witness illegal crossings from Turkey to Greece before,” he says, “but never at this scale.” They are feeling helpless, overwhelmed. As we continue to talk I find myself explaining to him notions like resettlement, non-refoulement, repatriation. He tells me they are also reading, researching on their own, trying to learn the legal aspects but the fact that they have been caught off-guard is obvious.
As night falls on Bodrum, more and more young men emerge and start grouping around the small town square. Most of them have a cell phone, plastic bags to hold their few possessions. Ataturk street, with its many pensions take on a different look. It is no longer a street filled with British tourists, tank tops, sunburn, smell of cheap beer. It is a microcosm of a smaller Syria. Everyone is in transit, talking, planning, grouping etc. Under the relative shade of darkness, larger, more organized groups start to gather behind the bus station. First step is to find a minibus to take them to a coastal stretch. Then they wait for the small, unstable rubber dinghys to take them across.
The traffickers are rampant. They take their money and supply the desperate groups with a means across. One thing they do not tell them is the current regime in the Aegean. The speed of the current once they leave the coastal shelf picks up. And unless they know the basics of navigation, it is miracles and desperate determination that will take them across to Kos. Most of the time that fails. The dinghy starts giving way. Water starts seeping in. They are at high seas, and despite the lights of nightclubs and restaurants on either coast, very seldom will anyone hear their desperate call. The next morning, we will all wake up to their dead bodies.
PS.. Those of you that follow my blog know that I started this series a couple of months ago, then abruptly stopped. I felt that nothing was changing, that only a limited number of people were interested reading about refugees. For the first time in years of covering refugee crises I felt exhausted in the face of apathy. The way media portray these people who are not different than us as mere statistics, is something we all became used to overtime. The people that are risking their lives to cross are not only from Syria. They are from Pakistan, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq. As the anti-immigrant policies and demonstrations in Europe raged on, I decided to stop. It was futile. I did not believe anyone truly cared. I was deceiving myself by believing that we still had a conscience. The crisis was being reported on the ground in several different points, but the stories seemed to be falling on deaf ears. Past few days bodies of children, innocents, started washing up ashore. I started reading the comments people made to these photos. There I saw empathy. Thus, I made up my mind. Even if nobody reads, I will keep on writing.