In the sleepy village of Skalochori on the Greek island of Lesbos, a group of 23 Syrian refugees are eating a hurried meal of donated fish and bread before a police van arrives to detain them.
Over the past two months, several islands in this area of the Aegean have been receiving boatloads of migrants, many of them Syrians fleeing the armed conflict in their country.
This group, a large extended family, includes six women and four children, as well as 23-year-old Emmad Saeed*, a student in his final year of law school. He spoke to IRIN about how he and his family ended up on Lesbos.
“We live in a small village in north-east Syria, in Al-Hasakah Governorate. The area was calm, but [then] the Kurdish started arming themselves, and the regime started to bombard all of us. The regime is cruel, but the opposition is not fighting well. Most people support [the rebels], but they don’t want to lose their children, and when revolutionary forces enter a village, the regime bombards it. A bomb landed really close to our village.
“We used to have a good living in Syria. We had houses and cars. It was a nice life. There was no religious extremism or tension. No one cared what religion you were. Now the economy has deteriorated, and it’s very difficult for us to live.
“Just over a week ago, an Arab guy came to our village and said he was willing to take people to Europe for 2,500 euros each. We have a lot of relatives in Germany and Sweden, so we thought we’d go until the war was finished. We didn’t want to live in camps like animals.
“One night, he put us on a small bus with blacked-out windows, and we drove - we didn’t know where. He said ‘No questions’, and normally we wouldn’t accept that, but we just paid. It was a bumpy ride for over 30 hours, and we didn’t stop, even to use the toilets. It was very hard for the children.
“We arrived at a shore, and there was a rubber boat. We didn’t speak to the driver and he didn’t speak to us. The sea was a bit rough, and we were all seasick. After about five and a half hours, we landed on a rocky shore. The driver said, ‘Europe’, and we took our bags and he left. We made a small fire on the beach, and when it was morning we met a man and a woman and asked them where we were. They said, ‘This is Greece’, and that was a shock for us. We thought he’d take us to Italy.
“We’re not parasites. We’re educated, we know how to work. We just want safety. Greece can’t offer us anything, so we’ll go from here, but how we don’t know. We didn’t bring any documents because we were afraid the Syrian police would catch us and kill us. The important thing is that now the regime can’t reach us. I know I’m not going to die, and that is a relief. If it was a normal situation, I would be devastated; I didn’t want to leave Syria.”
*Not his real name