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July 25, 2011

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Ismael's story - the long road to Europe

Kurdishaspect.com - By Raber Y. Aziz

When Ismael Pirbal, now 26, embarked on his journey from Shaqlawa, Kurdistan, to Europe, he had many colorful dreams of a new life in Finland: Easy living, easy money, easy love. Ismael had already dropped out of school one year before finishing high school. 

He was only 17 when he joined the security forces (Peshmarga) to help out his family financially. He stuck with it for four years. He had his own excuse for leaving Kurdistan. Life in the Peshmarga was not the kind of life he dreamed of. In Europe he could live well and provide for his family too. Hearing all the stories of success from his friends, he couldn’t wait to go.

“I decided to go for it, I no longer wanted to stay in Kurdistan,” Ismael said with a sigh, “I struck a deal with someone [a smuggler] whereby he would take me there for US$4,500.”

Travelling into Syria legally, he stayed there for 7 days, and embarked on an illegal journey from there into Turkey.  “I stayed in Turkey for 45 days. They [the smugglers] had squashed us into a room that would cater for two people, but there were 32 of us in the one room,” he said.“We couldn’t go out and we almost starved to death. The food was never enough for us.”

“Before we started the journey, the smugglers told us there only 8 of us on the journey, but it turned out to be 85. And when setting off to Greece through water routes, there were 32 immigrants on board the boat that would normally carry 10. They said the voyage would take two hours, but in fact it was 8 hours”

Along the Greek coast, boats patrol for smugglers. Larger numbers of migrants have an increased risk of being spotted by the border authorities and subsequently being arrested and deported. Luckily, Ismael’s boat made it through, but his trials were not over. The group had to walk for days through the wilderness.

“The smugglers had everything. They never ran out of food, money or anything else they need.  As for the migrants, they don’t give a damn what happens to you. There was this migrant with us who blacked out due to his tiredness, we told the smuggler that he couldn’t walk any more. He came to him and called him names and made him walk by kicking him.”

When they finally reached the spot where they could rest, exhausted, some of the migrants lit cigarettes, but the smugglers were not happy about this. One ran over and stabbed one of the smokers in the thigh.  “He was covered with blood all over,” said Ismael. “We had to help him walk when we resumed the long trek again. We had been walking for five days now. We did not have any food to eat, some of our friends snuck out of the group and handed themselves in to police to go back to Kurdistan, but we continued the journey.”

From Greece, Ismael crossed into Switzerland with two other migrants, they stayed in the first Swiss city to take some rest – sleeping in toilets. Ismael continued his journey from Switzerland to Germany and from there he planned to cross into Finland. He was so close to his final destination he could almost smell it.

“But I was not lucky. Just on the German border, they arrested me and took our fingerprints and sent us to the detention camps. They told me wherever I go from now they will arrest me and return me to Germany. But after sleeping there one night there, I decided that I had to risk it and go to Finland. At the same time, I inquired about smugglers who would take people through Sweden.”

Ismael found a smuggler. He and his friends reached an agreement with the smuggler who took them to Denmark and then to Sweden and from there into Finland.

“When we reached Finland, I turned myself in to the authorities. But after 3 months in detention centers, they found my fingerprints taken in Germany.” Desperate to stay in Finland he decided to take drastic action. “I cut myself with a knife, but it was no use. They detained me and put me in prison for 25 days. After that they deported me to Germany.”

Still undeterred, he planned to return to Finland. But what could he do about his fingerprints? This time surely they would find them even faster. He decided to disfigure his hands using  chemicals. “I had disfigured my hands so much that the device wouldn’t read my fingerprints at all. Therefore, they sent me to prison to wait for the day of my trial.” He was in prison for more than two months. Despite all this struggle he was once more deported to Germany.

He tried a third and fourth time to get to Finland, succeeding at last: “I made it to Finland this time, I stayed at a relative’s in Malmo, and they helped me so much. I fell in love with a Finnish girl there where I stayed for about a year.” Things were finally looking up for Ismael.

“I did not turn myself in, but because I cared for the girl, I wanted to make her happy, I decide to hand myself in. She accompanied me to the police station. We wanted to get married” Ismael said. However, while in custody awaiting processing Ismael things took a bitter turn.

“The girl betrayed me with one of my best friends who I considered my brother.” Ismael recalled how he introduced his girlfriend to his friend who he had looked up to so much, never suspecting that she would leave him and live with his “brother’ instead.

Finally he was once more deported to Germany and has been living there for over four years. He has no status as an asylum seeker and no permanent leave to remain. He lives in a constant state of limbo. “I have not seen a court since I came here. Nobody asks who I am and what I do.”

He says he now has to work and pay 90% of his earnings to the German authorities to allow him stay in the country as a form of penalty for leaving and returning to the country so many times. “Now I am working for the German government, but I don’t get paid for working. I work in school repairing broken tables and cleaning. I work for 10 euros per hour but I only get 1 euro out of it.”

Germany is home to one of the largest Kurdish communities in Europe. Figures from the German Immigration Office show that from 2000 and until April 2011, some 84,000 Kurds have asked  for asylum from Germany. The figures indicate that the number of Kurdish asylum seekers from Iraq peaked in 2001 rising to 6,759 a year and dropped in the following years. However, it has started to rise again. During the first four months of 2011 some 888 Kurds from Iraq registered for asylum indicating that 2011 could see more than 3000 Kurds from Iraq enter Germany.

Ismael is just one of the many migrants who went through a great deal to make it there: “I suffered so much that will never forget it as long as I live. Even now as I recall this, I feel like it is happening all over again.”

This article was first published in AKnews.

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