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“It was so cold, it felt like an arrow through my heart”

A Turkish asylum-seeker describes the moment the flimsy vessel carrying him and others capsized while crossing the Evros River to Greece.

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Fatih Yasar is the survivor of the tragedy on Evros River. He prays every day for the three children and their parents who were lost on Tuesday 13 of February in the frozen waters of the river, which is the natural border between Greece and Turkey.

He is a 35-year-old, married man and the father of a 2-year-old boy. Being a post-graduate student and an entrepreneur, he was arrested and kept behind bars for 14 months, after Turkey’s attempted coup in 2016, having been charged as a Gulenist. He was released at the end of last November. His bank accounts were seized. Being stigmatised as a Gulenist haunted him and he decided to flee his own country.

He came into contact with smuggling networks in early February and says he paid 2000 euros to smugglers who then disappeared with the money. A few days later, he made a second attempt with a different network. That time the price was 1500 euros. The deal was that the smugglers would be paid after his arrival in Greece. He was transferred from Istanbul to Edirne.

At midnight the smugglers drove him to the meeting point. It was there where he first met the two families. The first family was teacher Fahrettin Dogan, his wife Asli Dogan and their two-and-a-half-year-old boy Ibrahim Selim. The second one was teacher Ugur Abdurrezzak, his wife Ayse Abdurrezzak and their two boys, three-year-old Halil Munir and 11-year-old Abdulkadir Enes.

Starting from the meeting point, they had to walk for an hour until they reached the river banks and the specific point from which they would embark on an inflatable dinghy boat. During the muddy route Fatih Yasar was carrying one of the children on his shoulders.

Nine people got on the small boat, Fatih Yasar, the two families and one of the smugglers. There were no lifejackets. The boat was too small and the passengers insisted that they be divided into two groups, but the smuggler refused. In the river there were strong currents. From time to time, the boat drifted out of control, even spinning around. Just a few metres before reaching the Greek bank of the river, the boat hit a tree branch, which almost tore it. After hitting a second branch, it capsized.

“Εverything happened in no time. I could not understand what was going on. When we dropped into water, it was so cold that it felt like an arrow through our hearts. I could not move. The cold water was unbearable. I even swallowed water a couple of times. When the boat was sinking, I only heard a voice shouting “Allah” (Oh my God),” Fatih told Euronews.

“Τhe fight to save our lives had started. I tried to grab a branch because the strong current was drifting us very quickly. With my left hand I grabbed a thin branch and with my right hand I grabbed the hand of another man (he mentions Fahrettin Dogan or Ugur Abdurrezak), but (as it was dark) I could not recognize who he was”.

A little while later he lost him. Fatih Yasar had struggled for some time before he finally managed to reach the Greek bank of the river.

“I was crying. I kept thinking that I was not able to save the children’s lives. Those children could have been my own child. Ι carried them to this point and now what?”

As Fatih Yasar told euronews, when he got out of the river he saw that the smuggler had also managed to get out from the river. However, he immediately fled the scene.

Fatih Yasar started shouting for help. A Turkish military patrol from the Turkish side of the river heard him screaming. Euronews understands that the Turkish authorities were the first to know about the tragedy because of Fatih Yasar’s screams. As he told us, Turkish soldiers told him that they could not help him, because he was on the Greek side. The search conducted by the Turkish authorities led to the tracking of the three bodies, Ayse Abdurrezzak, her 11-year-old son and a three-year-old boy still not identified. The other four passengers are still missing.

Without any of his belongings, being soaking wet, Fatih Yasar had to walk for another 4 hours before he was found and taken to a refugee camp by the Greek authorities.

He was charged with illegal entry into the country. He was given a suspended sentence with a four-month imprisonment and a fine of 1.500 euro. He applied for asylum. He was released and he is currently staying with some friends in Athens.

He is still in a state of shock and it will be hard for him to forget what he has been through. However, he would like to send his own message.

“Τhis situation (Persecutions by the Turkish government) made us leave our homeland. Why would people throw their children in to the fire, throw their children into the water? I want people to think of the reason behind, why all this is happening.”

“Such journeys entail numerous dangers, but there is no alternative for those people. In their own country they have been stigmatized as Gulenists and for them there is no future there. Those Anti-Erdogan Turks, who managed to flee, fear for the safety of their families back home” said Michalis Arampatzoglou, Euronews, Athens.

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