Mahmoud Shaban

Interviewed in: Istanbul

Date: September 16, 2015

Idlib, Syria
Istanbul, Turkey

Shaban at Istanbul's bus terminal, where he hoped to take a bus to Turkey's land border with Greece. Turkish law enforcement evicted him from the bus station a few days later. © Loubna Mrie

My name is Mahmoud Shaban. I'm from Syria. I considered myself a Syrian, not an Arab. I am not proud of being Arab after what the Arab people have been doing to us. Especially Jordan. My fiancée is in Jordan and I haven't seen her in four years. We are only able to talk on the Internet.

The Turkish government issued me a Kimlik card [a temporary residence permit]. After a while the UN came to my house and took down my information. A year ago someone called me on my phone and asked if they could come to my house and do interview me. I said yes. They came to my house in Mersin and made me sign a file, ten papers written in English. I didn't understand what those papers where, but I understood that they would help me leave Turkey and get treatment because I'm injured. This happened last year but so far I have not heard anything.

My sister, who is 18, lost her eye in a bombing, and my other brother, who is 14 years old, has a bad burn on his arm.

Last week, before the demonstration [at Istanbul's bus station], I went to the UN building in Ankara and they didn't even let me go in, although I've been trying to speak to them for the last year. Whenever I go to a UN office, they just send me to a different one. It's not that they are not receiving any refugees. They are not allowing any Iraqis or Syrians, only Afghans and Iranians.

Last time I went, they didn't even let me get out of the taxi until I had a fight with them. Eventually they just gave me a phone number and told me to call. But every time I call they don't even listen to me, if you want I can call right now and let you listen to the reaction I get. I tried all the numbers. I even tried the number they claim has an Arabic translator from 7-5, but no answers. When someone finally answered, they say they don't deal with Syrians. That's why I lost hope, and why I'm now in the bus terminal trying to cross to Greece.

Why did you leave Idlib?

On the 10th of March 2011, the first military attack happened. The government sent in more than 10,000 soldiers just to try to put an end to a demonstration. Idlib is so small. The deployment was exaggerated. They started to attack everything and everyone. On the 12th of March I was injured. I was sent to a small field hospital, because all the big hospitals were occupied.

How did you get injured?

I got three bullets in my leg. I needed surgery right away, but in the field hospital they only had basic treatments. I only remember they wrapped my leg with gauze. It was not enough. They tried to take me to another field hospital that was managed by the Red Crescent. But they were not equipped for a surgery like this, because I had shrapnel in my leg. I couldn't move around because the area was under strict government surveillance. I had 7cm in my leg with shattered bones.

"We just want to cross by land," says Shaban, "we don't want to drown." ©Loubna Mrie

After a month, after I lost hope of getting good treatment to recover the use of my leg, I decided to go to Turkey. The road to Turkey was really bad so I had to be smuggled while I was injured. When I arrived in Turkey, I discovered that they wouldn't treat me if my injury was not an emergency. I ended up getting money from my friends and I was able to get the surgery in a private hospital. It cost me 5000 dollars. The public hospitals refused to even look at my injury to see if the treatment I had been given in Syria was appropriate because I was not an emergency for them.

After the surgery, my family left Syria and went to Mersin to join me. I had to start working. The working conditions in Turkey are very bad. They make you work 12 hours straight for half the money that a Turk would earn. Around 50 lira for 12 hours, which is not enough to sustain a family. House rent is 600 lira, electricity bill is 80, and the water is 100 lira. That's 800 lira, and we haven't even talked about the food and water. Because we can’t drink water from the tap, we need to buy drinking water. That’s why I am taking part in this demonstration. I really want to go to Europe to end my misery.

So if this demonstration failed, are you considering taking the sea?

I am not able to swim well because of my injury. Even if I were able to swim well, I am not going to take a trip where I could see women and children dying in front of me without being able to do anything. I still hope I am able to go by land without taking this risk.

[He points at a pregnant woman] Look at that pregnant woman, if she had to swim in the cold water, she could survive, but the baby would not. Don't you think its terrible for people who were able to survive the government shelling and the bombing to die at sea without you being able to do anything? I am not mentally able to see this happen before my eyes. I don't understand why the Turkish government let the people drown like this, and they help the smugglers with their business by not letting us cross through this piece of land [Edirne].

Last night 22 people drowned, and the day before 56. The Turkish government did not record those numbers. The only thing they see is that we might be able to cross by land and they would not be able to get any money.

I don't understand how the shores in Izmir and Bodrum are open, they don't stop the raft when it sets out to sea, and yet they are stopping us from getting to Edirne. The only way to cross is by bribing the Turkish police.

Where do you want to go?

It doesn't matter as long as I end up in a city and a country where they consider me a human being. Here in Turkey, they only consider us to be “guests” so far. They give us the Kimlik, which might enable us to go to the hospitals. But last week my nephew, who is two years old, had a fever at 2 am, so I wrapped him in a blanket and took him to the emergency room. Even when I showed my Kimlik, they asked for 300 liras and my passport. The first hospital I went to was a punlic hospital, but I only went to the private hospital when I did not get any answers from the government hospitals.

What do you mean?

I tried to go to one, and they asked me to go to another smaller hospital that closed at 5 and did not have an emergency ward. We are not demanding anything from Turkey except to treat us as human beings. We cannot be guests anymore. I wish this message could reach everyone that can help us. We just want to be able to cross by land. We don't want to drown.