By Dr. Milad Zinah
My journey to the UK was a very difficult one. I did not have many options as I applied to a lot of countries but they refused my visa application.
I was even accepted at universities in places like Canada as I wanted to go there to complete my studies and build a better life for myself, but the Canadian embassy in Cairo rejected my visa application multiple times. I had the same experience when it came to Australia or when I tried to apply for a visa to Arab counties. So, I decided to pursue the only remaining option, which was to reach Europe by any feasible means and to then apply for asylum.
It was very expensive to do this and what was worse was that most of the smugglers lie to people and steal their money. It was a very difficult decision. My mum cried a lot and she tried to prevent me from taking this risk but I explained to her that I did not have any other options. I made my decision with some friends while I was in Egypt and I travelled from Cairo to Alexandria to meet one of the smugglers. My friends and I tried to leave with him by sea but it was very difficult and risky to leave the Egyptian shore. We travelled by a small wooden boat despite the fact that the smuggler had told us we would travel on a big ship. We spent seven days in the Mediterranean Sea going from Alexandria to Bin Ghazi in Libya and from there to Italy. There were around 400 people on the boat and it was very crowded. There were lots of women and children with us, and we survived for seven days on just a few dates, and a little amount of water. As we got closer to Italy the captain of the boat advised us to call the Italian Red Cross but when we tried to reach them on our 3G network, they told us we were still close to Libya and could not help us.
We soon started running out of food and water. The children cried and it was very hot on the ship. When we tried to telephone again, no one answered our repeated calls for help. There was a woman we heard about, who would help any ship close to Italy, so we called her and she reached out to the Italian Red Cross. They in turn sent the Hamburg Ship to help us. Even then, because there were Egyptians with us they left us and went back. Six hours later, another ship came by and it was Korean. They tried very hard to get their ship as close as possible to our boat and then they saved us. We later saw two guys swimming towards our ship from a distance and we asked the crew to help them. They sent a boat to rescue them and we later discovered that they were from Gaza.
Their ship had 500 people on board, most of who were from Syria and Gaza. Sadly the ship sunk and they all drowned. We later arrived at an island called Catania and after two days I was able to recharge my phone. Once I was able to get a telephone reception you cannot imagine how many phone calls I received from my family and my friends! Of course they wanted to check on me and make sure that I was still alive. They did not know whether they would hear my voice again.
Dr. Milad Zinah a Syrian based in London
Painting: Esam Hamzeh / http://www.esamhamzeh.com