LESVOS, GREECE – Shortly after arriving on the shores of the Greek island of Lesvos, Ahmed Aldhab, 25, spoke to Global News about why he risked his life on an overcrowded dinghy in the middle of winter.
“I’m not thinking about risking my life, I’m thinking about starting a new life,” said Aldhab.
Civil war forced Aldhab and his family from their home in Syria. He and dozens of others travelled on a boat from Turkey to Greece, the main entry point for refugees and migrants entering Europe.
Volunteers from around the world, many working with small non-profits, greet and take care of many of those who arrive. Aldhab and other refugees say it’s much different from what they experienced in the hands of smugglers.
“Some of them paid $2,000 to get down here,” said Aldhab.
Kavin Faris Ahmed fled Iraq. Speaking through a translator shortly after arriving in Greece, he said a wound on his arm was inflicted by a smuggler in Turkey.
“Because he tried to ask them questions, because he thought that it wasn’t safe to come around here, he wanted to go back, he tried to change his mind but they hit him and said, ‘no, you have to go to the boat now,’” said the translator.
Despite the winter conditions, asylum-seekers continue to make the perilous journey to Greece.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports in January alone, more than 360 died trying to cross the Mediterranean.
In a particularly deadly final weekend of the month, more than 100 men, women and children died in the waters off Greece, Turkey and Italy.
The IOM estimates that 60 children died on the so-called Eastern Mediterranean route in the past month.
The number of asylum-seekers keeps growing: in January, more than 62,000 entered Europe through Greece, according to the IOM.
As conditions remain desperate in Syria, Alhdab predicts many more will continue making the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean and Aegean seas.
“Syrians got a very hard mindset. You can’t convince them to stop crossing the water to find a job, family, good home, to find a safe home,” said Alhdab.
Alhdab has now made it to Germany where he is staying in a refugee camp; he hopes to eventually make it to Canada.