Aylan: Last death on the highway to hope

Aylan: Last death on the highway to hope

Cüneyt Özdemir – KOS, Greece
Aylan: Last death on the highway to hope In wars, first the truths die, then the children. Aylan was the latest death!

He was 3-years-old. I know… There were “important” discussions on “How can a photograph of a child of 3 years of age whose body washed up on the shore be shared on social media? Can it be “liked?” How can the photograph printed full-size on a newspaper for the entire week…

Let’s leave these discussions for those sitting in their homes. Come, let me tell you about the current situation on the Aegean Sea where Aylan died.

Last week, I spent a few days inside this “upcoming” disaster. There is a highway of hope established in the Aegean. Let me put it this way; the hope traders have evolved from “small businesses” to “holdings.” When dusk sets, an international stir begins in the bays of Bodrum, especially ones closer to Greece. Thousands of children, men and women from all nations, of all age (no exaggerations), put custom-made plastic refugee boats, cram in it and try to make it across in God’s good grace. The trafficking is so intense that disasters, like the one on the boat where Aylan died, occurring is less of a surprise than them not happening.

Aylan: Last death on the highway to hope

Human trafficking is now very easy

The desperation and entrapment of these people, who have perhaps never seen the sea before, is so great that even “death” lying in wait in the dark waters of the Aegean Sea does not frighten them.

On this journey, supervision has decreased while the numbers have increased. Things are done so out in the open, much to everyone’s knowledge that an illegal activity has turned into “a secret everybody knows.”

Even an ordinary fisherman in the Aegean can give you the trafficking rates. For example, the fee for an immigrant to cross the Aegean Sea varies between 1,200 to 1,500 euros.

For example, the boats are custom-made, brought in from Izmir.

For example, most of the motors attached to the sterns are jerry-built motors mostly used in lakes.

For example, most of the brokers are Arabic-speaking people from out of that region. 

For example…

There is so much more, I do not know which of them to say! The most bizarre thing was that while we were filming the smugglers at night, we also conducted interviews with some of them. You are going to see on CNNTürk screens tonight, while refugees board boats in fear of their lives, the smugglers give us interviews!

Aylan: Last death on the highway to hope

Kos, a bomb ready to explode

You see the severity of the situation when you cross to Kos. The island has been shared between vacationers and refugees. To the left of the island’s entrance, you see refugees and their tents. On the right are the English and German tourists sitting in cafes, drinking their cold frappes. This contrast has created such an odd situation that within 10 meters, you step into a past century. These immigrant tents, which under normal circumstances we are used to seeing in the border towns of war zones, are set up in the middle of a European Union county. True, the situation in train stations in many European countries is similar but when the events occur in a touristic Aegean island, the images evolve into a tragedy. These people who have not had the chance to shower and go to the bathroom for days and who live on the streets spend their days waiting in front of the police station for the documents that will be their tickets to Athens. They are managing with the last money they have. What will become of this island when that money runs out? We will wait and see!

Making a bed out of a life vest

Many refugees buy life vests sold even in supermarkets in Bodrum and embark on this journey of hope. The first thing they do upon reaching a Greek shore is to deflate their boats so they cannot be sent back. I have seen people make cribs out of the life vests for their children and spread them beneath their tents to use as a mat. All they have are these vests and a bag. And the hope that fills their hearts…                                                                                                                                                                                                     
When you look from Europe, you feel as if many wars are happening in another era… A European is more curious if it is going to rain in their city than 700 refugees dying in an anonymous ship in the Mediterranean. However, when you look at it from Kos or Budapest, the refugees are now an internal problem. The time for closing off borders and forcing refugees into camps has come to an end. Thousands of people are desperately rushing to EU countries. Many do not even know they are going, like they determined a destination off a map and set off. Europe looks like the final sequence of the movie “Escape from Planet Earth.”

When you talk to the refugees, you face other realities. Some families remained in Turkey for several years. The reason they left is inability to obtain their fees, working illegally. “Two million refugees reside in Turkey” seems like an easy statement when written in numbers. But take a look around at the problems being faced in the streets.

Aylan: Last death on the highway to hope

They put together the money and went to Greece a middleman that sent refugees over says

Kenan TAŞ

Where are you from?

Pakistan. I have a boat. I work for three months and give money to a man. The boat went off to Greece. Then farewell Bodrum. I have been here for 10 days. I have no money, no bread. I give money, it went to Greece too.

Do you send them over from here?

I do not know. I know little Turkish.

Do you organize this crew? Are you the one that sends them over completely?

That was another friend. I gave money to that friend, he left. I did not.

Do you not make any money?

There is no money for me. I have been working with 10 guys for 3 months. They each collected enough money for a boat but I have no money.

So you never made any money from this team that crossed?

I do not have any money.

Who takes the money? Because you cross them over for a fee…

They all collected money from the men. There was a boat, 10 men left with it. To Greece.

For how many months have you been in Turkey?

10 days.

How did you get here?

We came here because there is no bread in Pakistan. The Gendarmerie found us as we were trying to cross over with a boat. Write all of this down brother. 

* * *

We should not have lived through this

Nour Ammar had no idea what she would go through when she escaped Syria and embarked on a 2,000 kilometer journey. She starved and slept on the streets. She was baffled when she finally got to Sweden.


Ammar, 20, born in Damascus and came to Turkey two years ago after escaping the war in Syria. Here she learned Turkish, received a commentator education and even commenced presenting a program in TRT Arabic. One of her brothers lives in Sweden and she wanted to get herself to safety.

She left her mother in Istanbul and got on the road on Aug. 15. When asked the question whether she was scared or not of going on the road alone she responds, “No. Because I was not aware of anything. I decided on Thursday and I was on the road Saturday. I still cannot believe I did this.”

She first went to Izmir then to Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and Denmark. The time she felt her worst was in Hungary, walking 16 hours on an empty stomach. She lived only on croissants and pizza for two weeks. She slept mostly on the streets.

Ammar wishes to someday return to Istanbul where she left her mother. However, she will not be returning to her country even when the war is over. “Because,” she says, “it is all over there. It will take 10-15 years for things to get even a bit better. No one wishes to see their country like that. Neither do I.” She managed to stay alive but she cannot even be happy about that. Not just because she lost her father there. She longs for a world where no one is forced to leave their own countries. When I ask her about Aylan, she takes in a deep breath and exhales slowly. “After that photograph, my mother calls every five minutes, crying. We should not have gone through this.