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'Running Away Is The Best Policy': Syrian Refugee Recalls Journey To Greece


For months now, we've been hearing about the migrant crisis in Europe - the thousands of people dying at sea, thousands more stuck in squalid camps. The numbers become numbing, so we wanted to hear just one story of one migrant's journey.

SOUFIAN ALMOBARK: Hello, good afternoon.

BLOCK: How are you?

ALMOBARK: Yes, my dear, I'm fine. My name is Soufian Almobark.

BLOCK: We reached Mr. Almobark today at a crowded migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. He's from Syria, 40 years old, with a wife and 7-year-old daughter. He was a financial manager, his wife, a communications company executive.

ALMOBARK: I have a car. I have a good life.

BLOCK: That was in the past. They lived in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. But earlier this year, with Islamic State fighters and the Assad regime laying waste to Aleppo, Soufian Almobark made a decision.

ALMOBARK: Running away is the best policy. (Laughter). So I took my family. We ran into the countryside of Aleppo. And I've told them, stay here, I'm going to go to Europe.

BLOCK: It must've been very hard to leave them behind.

ALMOBARK: Of course, it's a very risky thing, but...

BLOCK: But he says it was too risky to take them. He crossed on foot into Turkey, made his way across Turkey to the coast, bought a life jacket and paid a smuggler...

ALMOBARK: One-thousand, one-hundred U.S. dollars.

BLOCK: ...For a seat on a rubber dinghy.

ALMOBARK: (Laughter). The most horrible experience in my life.

BLOCK: The dinghy set off across the Aegean packed with men, women and nine children.

ALMOBARK: Exactly. I've been in a boat with another 41 person, a bad engine, and nobody knows the direction, and all of the people are trying to take the risk and it's a one-way ticket. (Laughter).

BLOCK: So tell me about what happened when you landed on the island of Lesbos.

ALMOBARK: When I landed, there was a mountain about 200 meters, 300 meters high. And then there was a street. And we walked about nine hours till we reached the camp.

BLOCK: You walked nine hours. I think it's 40 miles, probably, from where you landed to the camp.


BLOCK: When you first landed on the shore in Lesbos, can you tell me what went through your mind?

ALMOBARK: Freedom. I want to get free out of Syria. The situation with Daesh made my life miserable.

BLOCK: Daesh meaning the Islamic State, ISIS.

ALMOBARK: Yes, the ISIS. The ISIS people.

BLOCK: Were you thinking, as you sat on that coast of Greece, were you thinking about your wife and your child back home?

ALMOBARK: Exactly. Nothing else.

BLOCK: Do you have a cell phone? Could you call them?

ALMOBARK: Of course, directly I've called them. And we all started crying (laughter).

BLOCK: Tell me, Mr. Almobark, about the conditions at the camp where you're staying now on the island of Lesbos.

ALMOBARK: Actually, it is the worst condition I have ever seen in my life. The situation, for an example, the toilets here, they don't have water inside the toilets. They are bringing waters within one hour or two.

BLOCK: Is there food?

ALMOBARK: I'm living on biscuits right now.

BLOCK: You're living on biscuits.

ALMOBARK: And bringing juice, and that's it.

BLOCK: Mr. Almobark, where are you hoping to head? Where are you going?

ALMOBARK: At the end, I hope to go to the U.K. I was a financial manager in Syria. I need any organization that needs somebody who speaks English and Arabic and with a background of finance.

BLOCK: Do you feel hopeful about what's to come?

ALMOBARK: Of course. Life must go on. We are all alive and kicking, but between time to time, I think of my family and that's it. I just want to get them back to me as soon as possible.

BLOCK: Mr. Almobark, what do you think is important for listeners here to understand about migrants, like yourself, who are making their way in these huge numbers flooding into Europe?

ALMOBARK: I want to say on behalf of the Syrian migrants that Syria is a good country and - I didn't like to go like this and it doesn't need to be like this, but this unbelievably terrible regime inside Syria, inside Iraq, inside every country, made everybody eager to run away from this hell - from the Syrian hell, from the Middle East hell. I'm very sad. I'm about to cry.

BLOCK: I'm so sorry.

ALMOBARK: But nothing really matters. Actually, it's like crying for crying. (Laughter). Nobody's listening.

BLOCK: Well, I'm listening.

ALMOBARK: My dear, I'm not talking to you with 100 percent of my mentality 'cause my physical situation - I mean, my mental situation is very bad.

BLOCK: Well, you sound remarkably fine.

ALMOBARK: You won't find me like this. If you saw me face-to-face, you know, in terms of business, I'm a white shirt man.

BLOCK: You're a white-collar worker, yeah.

ALMOBARK: You know this terminology with the silk tie?


ALMOBARK: And with the suit?

BLOCK: You're a businessman.

ALMOBARK: Yes, exactly, but now I'm in another world.

BLOCK: Mr. Almobark, thank you so much for talking with us, and I hope you get reunited with your family very soon.

ALMOBARK: Thank you very much my dear.

BLOCK: That's Soufian Almobark, a migrant from Syria. He spoke with us from the Kara Tepe migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.