The world celebrated the World Refugee Day with special statements today. There are 65.6 million refugees in the world. Every one of the refugees have their own story. The story I am about to commit to paper is only one of them.
According to the news on Dagbladet, dated 2nd January 2015, a body washed ashore wearing a wetsuit near Lista, in southernmost Norway. White bones were popping out of the skin of both legs of the wetsuit. These were the remains of a human. According to the security measures taken by the Scandinavian counties, deceased people are identified quite fast. The police started to check the local missing persons reports, international missing reports, and the accidents which could be related. They couldn’t find anything.
A thorough investigation was started through the Interpol from the DNA profile. Since nobody applied with a search record, no information was found about this unclaimed corpse. But Norway police received a message from the Netherlands police. They had found another body wearing the same wetsuit, and they had no idea about who the person was. But Netherlands police traced the brand sewn inside the wetsuit. Both wetsuits had been purchased in cash, in the French city of Calais from the same shop, in October 2014.
If anyone gets lost in the shores of France, the family and the entourage of the lost person file a missing report, they call the police, and start checking the media organizations. In a nutshell, it is very difficult to get lost in Europe without leaving a trace. But if you are a refuge who is running away from the war and if your family is still alive but don’t know where you are and you are staying illegally just like the other thousands of people do on a daily basis and if you get lost one day, nobody will notice you are missing. The police will not search for you, because nobody would know you are missing.
Journalist Anders Fjellberg and the photographer Tomm Christiansen went to the camp in Calais for traces to investigate the story in April 2015. After a 3-month investigation, they found out that these two young men were Syrians, named Shadi Omar Kataf and Mouaz Al Balkhi. They did not only find out the names of these men. They also found out about their story that Omar and Mouaz had run away from war in Syria and they were stuck in the camp in Calais.
Mouaz Al Balkhi
He was born to a middle income family with four children in 1991. His father is a chemical engineer and since he was one of the opponents of the regime, he had spent 11 years in prison. Mouaz had taken all the responsibility and started taking care of his 3 sisters. He had studied in the University of Damascus to become an electrical engineer. Few years after the Syrian war, the family fled from Damascus to Jordan. Since their father couldn’t find a job, nor Mouaz could continue studying, they had moved to Turkey. Due to the fact that he was not accepted to the university here, he had decided to go to England, where his uncle lives.
Mouaz’s route after Turkey, which was resulted in death, is a very long one. He goes to Algeria, he walks to Libya, then he goes to Italy on a boat after paying to the human traffickers and finally he arrives at Dunkirk. He unsuccessfully tries to pass the English canal 12 times by hiding in a truck. And after that he gives up and tries to find another way. Together with his friend Sahti Kafaf, they decide to purchase a wetsuit together and swim into England, since they did not have enough money left to pay for the human traffickers. The results were disappointing. The wetsuits they purchased to swim through the Channel Tunnel to reach England, becomes their body bag. Their swelled bodies were found washed ashore three months later, one in Netherlands, and the other in southern Norway.
Where is Calais?
Calais is the closest coastal town of France to England. There was a center of population in the city, which was deemed Europe’s worst refugee camp, hosting around 3.500-5000 people, who tried to survive under very bad conditions. Diseases and infections were widespread because of the lack of food, water, and health services. All of the refugees shared the common fate; they were stuck. They could not reach England to make an asylum request. They mostly made unsuccessful attempts by hiding inside the trucks which go to Eurotunnel, or to the ferry, or they sneaked in the tunnel terminal at night to hide in the trains.
Most of these people were educated and gifted workers. Most of the refugees in Calais spoke English and skilled workers such as lawyers, politicians, engineers, graphic designers, farmers and even soldiers were living in the camp. Their common request was to work and study. In a nutshell, they wanted to continue their lives. Following that incident, the Calais camp, in which 6000 refugees lived, was closed in October 2016 without any other options.
It should be remembered that around 1.5 million refugees, of whom more than 5000 drowned like Mouaz in treacherous waters, passed on to Europe over the Mediterranean in the last 3 years.
What does this story tell us? Everyone has a story and everyone has a personality. But if you were forced to flee because of a conflict or war, you will be depersonalized. Depersonalizing the refugees is a common problem of the world. Getting out of the conflict zone is very dangerous and is a very big chance, but the suffering of these people en route to their destination and when they reach Europe is even multiplied. The only purpose of these people, who receive an inferior treatment in the camps, is to have a safe place where they can live a humane life. Succeeding that terrible incident, the camp in Calais was closed. Although the steps are taken to stop the influx of refugees, destroying all of the alternatives offers an inextricable map in the international arena.
Last word; a new life and a right to restart should be provided by the western countries to the defenseless refugees. By embracing the victims of terrorism, we can create a global susceptibility and build our future with peace together.
Deniz Zengin is a journalist and doctoral researcher focusing on refugees and immigration.