Days after the world’s conscience was shocked by the image of a dead toddler washed up on a Turkish beach, all that was stopping more refugees from making the same crossing was the media frenzy on the shore.
“We saw the picture of the baby, [but] we have no other chance,” said 36-year old Abdulmenem Alsatouf, a father of three who once ran a supermarket in the Syrian city of Idlib.
He is now one of thousands of refugees waiting for their chance to make the 4km nocturnal crossing to the Greek island of Kos from Turkey’s resort of Bodrum, one perilous leg in a journey for which smugglers charge thousands of dollars.
“We can’t go back to Idlib, and there is no job for us in Turkey,” he said. “I want to go to Germany but Sweden, Belgium, they are all fine. We are going to go to Kos.”
The Turkish coastguard said it stopped 57 people in three boats on Thursday night. However, that is a tiny fraction of the 2,000 a day that aid groups say have been reaching Greece.
Harrowing images showing the tiny body of three-year old Aylan Kurdi face-down in the surf near Bodrum have jolted European governments and put a human face on the crisis. His five-year-old brother Galip and mother were also among at least 12 who died from a group of 23 on two boats.
However, those planning to make the journey say they already know the odds. The UN refugee agency estimates more than 300,000 people have used dangerous sea routes to reach Europe this year alone, with around 2,500 lost at sea.
“I know the trip is dangerous,” said Mohammad Shaar, 22, as he waited for his chance to cross. “These deaths didn’t start with the toddler. Many people have drowned.
“If European policies were not so brutal, our people wouldn’t have died in the sea. These people are obliged to make that trip. There is no other way for us.”
Meanwhile, four Syrians appeared in handcuffs at a courthouse in Bodrum yesterday, accused of smuggling in connection with the voyage on which Aylan and his family died. The mother of one of the suspects, Meliha Recep, insisted her son was not a smuggler but himself a refugee.
“They did nothing, they were just trying to escape,” she said. “Our children are also victims. They were just on the same boat, that’s all.”
Turkey says it is trying to stem the flow of refugees leaving its shores. Of the 57 Syrian, Afghan, and Pakistani people detained on Thursday, those that have identifying documents and are not from Syria will be deported to their country of origin, authorities said.
The rest will remain in Turkey, which already hosts 2m Syrian refugees and has borne much of the brunt of the humanitarian fallout from the four-year civil war in neighbouring Syria, at a cost of $6bn.
With infrastructure buckling and work permits difficult to come by, Turkey’s Aegean coastline has become a key jumping-off point for people hoping for a better life in Europe.
A woman named Ayse was selling life-jackets in Bodrum, a trade she said had replaced her usual income selling silver trinkets to tourists.
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