Yahya Barbakh recounts the details of the horrific journey he undertook in an attempt to reach Europe across the Mediterranean, which ended with the death of his comrades and the sinking of the boat.
In a report published by the British “Middle East Eye” website, the writer Maha Hosseini said that Yahya Barbakh was one of the survivors of a drowning accident off the Turkish coast, and he returned from Turkey a few days ago after his failed attempt to immigrate to Europe in search of living conditions better.
The boat, which was carrying Barbak and 9 other Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, capsized on the fifth of last November while sailing from the Turkish coastal city of Bodrum to Greece, which resulted in the killing of two people and the loss of another.
Long and expensive trip
Barbach told Middle East Eye that he decided two months ago to find a way out of his family’s miserable life. He did everything in his power, working as a driver and a barber, and took every opportunity to work and live, but all this was not enough to provide a decent life for his family. “When I first told my family that I was thinking of emigrating, my mother rejected the idea and was afraid that I would die there. But I managed to convince her,” he explained.
Barbakh, 27, adds that he sold his mother and wife’s jewelry, and borrowed money from his sister in preparation for what he thought was the beginning of a decent life. In order to get to the first leg of his journey, Cairo Airport, Barbakh had to pay about $480 for a visa and ticket, and another $500 for coordination, a term for bribes given to facilitate the crossing from Gaza through Rafah to enter Egypt. It is noteworthy that the amount that Barbak paid to coordination is equivalent to the wages of working for 37 days in Gaza.
Once in Turkey, the smugglers asked him to go to a neighborhood in Bodrum, where he had to pay them $3,000 through an intermediary office. When he reached the neighborhood, Barbakh found dozens of people, including children, of different nationalities, most of whom were Syrians and Palestinians waiting for smugglers to help them emigrate.
“They sent us the location via WhatsApp, and we had to walk through the woods in complete darkness in order to reach the meeting point where they asked us to go for a boat ride,” Barbakh said. “They promised us that there would be no more than 7 people on the boat and that it would be safe. But when we got there on the first day, we were surprised by the large number of migrants and asylum seekers waiting to board the rubber boat, about 30 or 40 migrants,” he added. .
According to Parbach, smugglers often threaten migrants with calling the police, forcing them to board boats at gunpoint. Once the boat was full, a smuggler started the engine and asked if anyone on the boat could drive the boat. “Driving the boat was not difficult,” Barbach said. “They only asked us to continue sailing for about 20 kilometers until we reach Greek territory.”
Barbakh stated that he had previously tried to emigrate with his companions, but their attempts were unsuccessful, and they were arrested for the first time by the Turkish police and the coast guard for several days before releasing them. But their last attempt ended in tragedy, as Yahya explained that the boat capsized with them in the middle of the sea, and they were left struggling to drown for hours.
We ate fish, mom.
On that horrific day, 14 people, including 9 from Khan Yunis and one from Rafah, boarded the 10-person boat. Then the smugglers asked 4 old men and a woman to get off the boat, but the woman refused and insisted that she wanted to reach her fiancé in Europe.
“Shortly after the boat took off, the wind blew and the water started flowing inside the boat. We panicked and used everything we had to get the water out. Some of us even took off our shirts and fleece jackets to suck the water and squeeze it back into the sea,” Barbakh said.
Barbakh saw two people drowning, one of whom was his friend Nasrallah Al-Farra, and Barbakh indicated that “they could not save them because everyone was drowning like them.”
Barbach recalls that incident, saying, “It was so dark, I was sure I was going to die. The tape of my life passed before my eyes as I struggled to keep my head above the water.” After about two and a half hours, he collapsed and woke up on a Turkish Coast Guard vessel.
“I woke up and saw only one man lying next to me. I started screaming and pointing at the coast guard trying to tell them there were 10 people on the boat. I calmed down only when I saw them pull more people alive from the water. By the end of the day, only 7 of us were on the boat.” Alive, they recovered two bodies, while one person is still missing.”
While Perbach was waiting for the Coast Guard to pull out the rest of his comrades, he used the mobile phone of a survivor to send voice messages to his mother via WhatsApp, which was later circulated widely on social media platforms.
Since the bloody Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip in 2014, hundreds of people and families have risked their lives by sailing on rickety rubber and wooden boats to leave Gaza in search of a better life in Europe. Two weeks after the end of the Israeli military campaign, the Palestinians woke up to the news of the tragic drowning of more than 400 migrants and asylum seekers in international waters southeast of Malta, and most of the victims were Palestinian residents of the besieged Strip.
Since then, the number of attempts to migrate by sea has risen dramatically, with more people trying to leave the Gaza Strip after each military offensive.
Although Barbakh knew that his journey would not be easy, he did not expect to end up in Gaza again. I believe that whatever hardship he will face there, it is still better than the uncertain life in Gaza, where he has no future.
According to the World Bank, the unemployment rate in Gaza is around 50%, at a time when more than half of the Strip’s population lives in poverty. In the aftermath of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza in May 2014, 62% of the Gaza population became food insecure.
I want my children to live
While Barbakh returned home a few days after being rescued, two other families were preparing to hold funerals for their son who had drowned in the accident. Umm Nasrallah, Al-Farra’s mother, said that she learned of her son’s death a few days after the accident. “They told us he was still alive in the hospital, but after two or three days they said he died, he left to earn a living, and he has a family to support,” the 42-year-old’s mother added. As for Nasrallah’s father, he was taken to the hospital after his heart problems worsened upon hearing the news of his son’s death.
Umm Nasrallah said, “Since he heard the news, his health has deteriorated sharply, and now we are spending the whole day with him in the hospital. It is not easy to know that the son who traveled to support his family will return as a dead body.” “This is a lot for us to bear, there is a lot of pain, he has survived wars and few opportunities only to die in this way far from home,” she added.
The writer mentioned that Anas Abu Rajila, who was sitting next to Nasrallah when the boat capsized, was found dead. His body floated for hours off the Turkish coast before it was recovered, while Anas’s cousin, Mahmoud Abu Rjeila, is still missing.
“The extreme poverty of Anas and Mahmoud and the precarious situation in Gaza is what pushed them to seek a better life abroad,” said Kamal Qudeih, a cousin of the two men. He added, “Mahmoud was a father of two children. Both of them started small projects in an attempt to earn a living before they chose to emigrate, but they failed. Mahmoud used to tell me: I want my children to live. He would repeat this sentence every time he talked about looking for job opportunities.”
Since the beginning of 2021, some 1,600 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean while trying to migrate or seek asylum in Europe.