In the summer of 2016, I met and interviewed a human smuggling survivor who opened about his tragic experience. He was a tall middle-aged middle eastern man. He was working as a carpenter at a house, near to mine. I used to walk occasionally around that place. So we became good friends, meeting every day.
I remember the night we discoursed his experience. He told me about his family circumstances, back in the mid-2000s. It was tough for him as his father had passed away, and It was on his shoulders to support the family as his siblings were younger. He had to work two jobs daily to support his family. He was working as a trainee back then as an electrician.
One day, he met an acquaintance who told him how he could earn more than what he made using those two jobs. He continued to add that there was a risk, but if he is willing to take the chance. The rewards will be very fulfilling. The man continued to tell him about he can choose to get smuggled from his home country to Europe through a smuggling passage that moves from Iran to Turkey and then to Europe.
He told him the journey will be hard, and if he was willing to go. They will make arrangements but he has to pay them money for successfully smuggling them across. He agreed and made the riskiest gamble of his life to leave his country to strive for a greater chance of a livelihood. He joined the expedition and paid around 2000 USD to them for the trip. Everything he had was riding on this journey that will soon show him horrors beyond comprehension.
He left shortly after through car, and then they were taken through Iran and then through borders around Turkey and then to Greece. Along his journey, he told me that they passed through a desert, an ocean, and as well as urban areas. They were smuggled through ships, on foot through scorching desserts to make that journey happen.
He told me that most people who are cramped up in containers usually don’t make it, as they have only limited rations and a long journey during this trip. Most people either starved to death, or desperation made them lose their minds. In the desert, while traveling through Iran, most men fell due to hunger and some due to dehydration. They were 60 men when they started traveling, during the journey most weren’t able to make it as it took a toll on their health and some just went mad.
He continued to tell when they were stocked like chickens in the containers, there was barely any room to breathe. The ship left from Turkey to a European city. During that journey, he had to dish it through as everything in his life was riding on his survival. He was able to reach Greece. He told me smugglers have agents that take care of you, get you jobs, and even at times help with getting visas as well.
It is a risky gamble, one if successful can even reward you with a stay in the country such as Portugal. He claimed that if you seek refuge in Portugal, there is a policy that if you pay an income tax for X percent for Y number of years in Portugal you can get citizenship there even if you’re an illegal immigrant.
Afterward, reaching Greece some agents took him and conditioned him to look the part so that he can blend in. They gave him funds, that he deposited earlier, and then put him in a fruit shop. Where he would sell fruits and vegetables. He worked that job for 3 years and earned 10 times more than he earned in his home country. He could make enough for himself and his family.
Life was getting better, he added. He was happily working in his shop. He learned and picked up some of the languages as well. Then one day, he got to meet another person who told him, there was a way that he would be able to make 10 times more than he was.
Listening to this, greed came over his mind. Even though he was living a risk-free life, and even came back using an actual visa to Greece after entering the country illegally. As he was able to afford it using the money he earned from his day job. But this wasn’t enough for him anymore. The earnings were normal but he wasn’t grateful for what he had in his own two hands.
He communicated with the smuggling agent and left everything from Greece to travel to Italy. Succumbing to greed, he agreed and sold his shop — all his belongings and gave in to the folly that will soon cost him everything he had.
He was smuggled from a ferry, and but soon after the coast guard caught onto that smugglers were smuggling people from Greece to Italy. Men jumped in the sea and trying to swim towards the shoreline when they reached nearing a docking bay in Italy. Many drowned he said, during that as they couldn’t swim and he was caught by the guard and then detained.
The agents who were on the ferry escaped, but everyone who made it either alive or was caught was detained and questioned. They were jailed and blacklisted and then deported back to their countries. When he came back the authorities took him in and then released him shortly afterward in his home country.
This gave him depression, as he bet everything all his life and what he had on something so foolish. He tried to commit suicide, he added back in 2010, as he couldn’t take it anymore. All of this took a toll on his mental health.
He had put his all into something better but he wasn’t grateful for what he had.
“If only I had never listened to that smuggling agent, I would have earned a handsome livelihood and would have been able to support myself and my family just fine. Now I had nothing to my name, and nothing in my hands” — he added.
After a while, he met the same guy who had tried to get him for the first time. This time, he tried again after a few years in 2012 to try going through the sea. This was perhaps more dangerous than the one chose by road. As the sea is far higher risk because there is a 100 percent chance you won’t make it.
But I tried, he added this time his trip was towards the emirates. He stayed there for a few years, only coming back shortly after because of his illness. He had migraines every night from the traumas that he experienced during his journey. He was unable to sleep during nights without heavy sedatives and medications. He would see all the men that died during the journey and it would haunt him.
When he came back, he started working in a construction company. The agent pitied him and helped him get a job in his home country. He worked there during the years 2014-present. He got married in between but he tried to turn his life around. He told me he keeps a lot of regrets, but there is nothing he can do now but try to safeguard what he has left.
He added that people are never grateful for what they have until they lose just that. Only then will they realize how fortunate they really were.
He talked about the nights he spent in agonizing pain from the trauma he experienced during those journeys. The mental blow he received from that one mistake that cost it all was perhaps the hardest thing that he could swallow.
He did tell me a lot many things perhaps on how the network works. How human smuggling should never be your last resort. It is better to try to make a better life with what you have. If you give that up, you would never receive anything that you aspire.
He used his experience to convert the rest of his life to good use. He told me for years he blamed himself, but then he forgave himself as he had no choice. He was the only man to take care of himself and his family — the only source of livelihood and salvation.
He advised me, with many of his wise experiences which I penned in vivid detail as he told me everything, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the horrific. Somehow I was able to light his burdens and his mental fatigue. He thanked me afterward for a few weeks of this experience. As he stopped experiencing nightmares shortly after.
Though he would still take his medications, but overall by expressing his deepest darkest secrets that had hurt him over the years. He was finally able to let go of the pain and regret that caused him a lot of suffering and scorn. I listened and listened to what he said, I even got emotionally sad by listening to the hard life he had chosen just for the sake of others.
Even though he chose a greedy way, he penned that if he had only been grateful for what he had and not listened to the devious ego and greed. He would have been earning a really great livelihood in time but impatience got him much faster and he lost it all by running towards something that wasn’t great for him.
Sometimes, we have to focus on what we have and make the most of it. It’s a mental choice, one that we have to choose — to make things better for us in our lives, and not the other way around.
But he turned over a new leaf and then started working as a carpenter. Afterward, he showed me the cabinets he was working on. Marvelous craftsmanship — I congratulated him. He started to blush and smile and thanked me a lot. We went for drinks shortly afterward, hand in hand.
All of this transpired in that one auspicious night of Summer June 2016, while we sat on the wooden boards under the dark night sky as he explained it with zest.
Thank you for reading.