Samer Fanari, 27, defected from the Syrian army a year and a half ago and crossed into Turkey with nothing but his military tags. His plan was to travel to Sweden where his mother lives and apply for asylum, but he only got as far as Greece. He told IRIN about his experiences.
“In Istanbul [Turkey’s largest city], there’s a place called Aksaray where you can find thousands of people who take people to Europe. I paid someone 400 euros [US$540] to take me to the Greek border, but now it costs 3,000 euros [$4,051] because so many people want to go.
“There’s two ways to get there: the first one is walking, and the other is by sea. I chose the first one because it’s cheaper and more safe, but it’s so hard.
“First they took 20 of us in a small car for three hours, then they took us to the woods and we walked for two to three hours. After that we arrived at a big river and then the Turkish police caught us, finger-printed us and detained us for five days. Then they took us back to Syria. After one hour, I went back to Turkey and started again, and this time I crossed the border [into Greece].
“It’s so bad in Greece; they don’t give you any papers or anything. There’s no work, no hope, nothing. I wanted to go from Athens to Sweden by plane.
“There’s a place there [in Athens] called Omonia where you can buy fake passports, IDs, [identity documents] anything you want. Then you go to the airport. But you have to do it so many times because they always catch the fake passports. I tried that maybe 10 times and they caught me 10 times. Each time, they just confiscated the passport or ID and said, ‘Go’.
“I ran out of money eventually and went back to Turkey and am still living here. Now I want to go again, but this time from the airport in Istanbul. I have lots of friends who have done it, but it’s so expensive - you have to pay, like, 9,000 euros [$12,155] just for the fake documents. Most people can’t afford it.
“There are people going from Egypt to Italy by boat. It’s so dangerous - three days on the sea - some people die. They pay [smugglers] $400 or $500.
“People also go from Turkey to Bulgaria. No one wants to stay in Bulgaria, but it’s a cheap way. From there, they all try to go to Sweden or Germany, because they can get papers quickly there.
“It’s impossible to go to an embassy and apply for a visa if you are Syrian. It used to be possible, but now they don’t give us any help in the embassies. They know we have to use illegal ways.
“I will leave for Sweden in about a month when I have enough money. I will get papers there and then I can go anywhere I want to go.”