By Sallie Latch
What if it was you whose life was suddenly interrupted by bombs, rockets and gunfire? What if your home was destroyed, all possessions gone and all 4 of your beloved children were shredded by a barrel bomb? What would it feel like to gather whomever was left of your family, collect a pair of socks, a t-shirt, a favorite family photo and say goodbye to all you had ever known and loved?
First, you would seek safety, which means getting to the border—a death-defying feat. The roads are blocked. You try to make your way through mountains of rubble, climb over dead bodies, dodge bullets fired by warring rebel groups, and hope you’re not killed by the bombs exploding around you. You pay a smuggler to lead you past ISIS or Taliban territory. After many terrifying hours, somehow you survive and arrive at the border. At last you are safe.
Well, not quite. You don’t have a visa. Not even a passport. Of course you can’t enter. So sorry. You aren’t wanted here. No one wants you.
To make sure you know this, a human-like monster with a gun pointed at you dares you to enter his piece of the planet. You beg to cross into his space. He jams a rifle butt into your gut. An 8-year-old boy standing next to you is shot in the stomach. You watch a stream of red blood trickle down his skinny leg. He keels over. You panic. Luckily your smuggler knows the ropes and pays several hundred dollars to the guards and you pass. You are safe now. Or are you?
Your smuggler, who is not your friend and could be part of a gang that wants to kill you and exchange your body parts for money, leads you through a thick forest, with wild animals and soldiers hunting you down. You follow him and trudge on at night in total darkness.
If you travel in the winter, there is deep snow and freezing weather to battle. Your skimpy shoes and thin jacket won’t keep away the icy cold and so you get frost bite. You’re weak. You falter and fall. You force yourself up, stumble, put one foot in front of the other and keep going. You pass a mother 8 1/2 months pregnant lying helpless in the snow with her four children. You want to help her, but you don’t. You keep going, passing dead bodies on the way. You feel guilty, but you must save yourself.
Let’s say you survive the trip through Turkey or Iran and you decide to stop in Istanbul to earn some money. Perhaps you need it because your wife is pregnant and waiting for you in Greece. You work 10-14 hour days doing dirty, hard work for about a $1.00 an hour. You are illegal so of course your employer will take advantage of you. He may or may not pay you. But there is nothing you can do.
Finally, you stop working and you try to get to Greece. You try many times, but each time you are caught by the police. You are thrown in jail, beaten with clubs and kicked until you are covered in blood. You keep trying and trying and finally, on the l0th try, you evade the bullets, the police, the thugs and you reach Izmir, Turkey, where smugglers entice you with a deal to get you across the Aegean Sea to Samos where you will find your wife and, together, you will make your way into Europe—the promised land.
Well, not easy. For a price, the smuggler arranges a small rubber dingy that ordinarily holds about 20 people. Wanting as much money as possible, he forces up to 40 or more people into the space. You may refuse to get in, but the pistol he’s waving at your head changes your mind. Hopefully, the life jacket you bought is real and not filled with straw or paper. You get in the dingy. The smuggler stays on the shore. He points to a far-off light and tells you to get to there. That’s your destination.
But you don’t know how to steer the dinghy and you’ve never seen the sea before. You can’t swim. The dingy is so crowded it sinks down to the water line. Water gets in. The sea is rough and it is pitch dark. You must not make a sound for fear of being caught by the police who are looking for you. You toss about in the sea for an hour or so and suddenly the engine stops. It has run out of gas. You wait in the blackness of the night. You use the light on your cell phone hoping to attract rescuers from the Greek side of the sea,
But it’s too late. The dinghy suddenly flies through the air, tipping over and trapping your mother, your two sisters, and your brother-law underneath. They are devoured by the sea. The next time you see them they are purple, wrapped in green seaweed, lying on the beach.
Let’s say you survive the trip by sea and. eventually, Greek rescuers find you. They are kind, wrap you in blankets, and take you to the shore. Police are waiting for you. They are officious as they take your name, fingerprint you, ask a few questions, write something in a language you don’t understand and hand you a piece of paper. You are now registered. You are now officially an “Asylum Seeker”. You are no longer the car mechanic, hair dresser, lawyer, musician, student, housewife, teacher or anybody you used to be.
You are put into a van and driven out of town. When the van stops and you get out, you see a chain link fence topped by barbed wire. You see people inside, clinging to the fence and shouting, Salam Alecheim my friend. Welcome to Prison!” “Prison?” Yes, prison. You are confused. You ask yourself, “why am I a prisoner? What have I done? Why am I being sent into this noisy, stinking place made for 400, now crowded with over 2000 men, women, and children. And why is the gate being slammed shut behind me? You’re dazed. It will take weeks before you realize what has happened to you.
What has happened to you is that forces beyond your control have visions of power and conquest, to say nothing of untold riches. In the process millions have been displaced, killed or drowned, but it doesn’t matter. There are important men in far off places in fine suits, posing and grinning for photo ops. They aren’t concerned about you. They are concerned about getting elected. They gather together and drum up fears about you, your religion, your strange dress and odd habits. They perform on television, pontificate and warn about your desire to take over the world and destroy us. You are the enemy to be feared, to be kept in your place, to be locked up, or to be drowned when necessary. How else can we maintain our envied culture, our civilized way of life? How else can those in power stay there?
About the writer
Sallie Latch has been an activist most of her 85 years. She is a Californian, world traveler, artist, and retired teacher. In 2016 she went to Samos, Greece and interviewed refugees and immigrants from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. While this was not her first experience with injustice, the stories she heard were shattering. She is determined that their voices be heard. She is grateful to have this opportunity to share her compilation of interviews…interviews that are filled with the agony of war and poverty…but also of determination, resilience, and hope. May listeners be moved to resist injustice and work for peace.
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