Dying for The Shore

Yousra Sattouf (+Video)


On October 21, 2015, my husband decided our family should travel from Turkey to Greece by sea. We were planning to go to Europe to live in safety, running away from the war in my country, Syria. We left the hotel we were staying in to meet at the boat. We waited in the dark, kneeling between the muddy bushes. Every time we saw any lights coming or heard anything, we all bent over as fast as lightning. I was extremely scared. The place smelled like dirt. I could feel my heart racing, trying to jump out of my chest.

“It’s here,” a whispering voice came from behind, making me shiver. We started walking towards the boat. I felt the mud getting all over my shoes, letting some water slip in, wetting my socks. I was wearing shiny black sneakers, with black laces. By the time I got to the boat, the cold water had already covered half my clothes to the waist. I sat at the front of the boat with my daughters beside me. As we sat, we felt the water beneath our feet. The boat was already watery. We tried to warn everyone, but we got yelled at to keep quiet.

With fourteen people sitting close together, the boat was full. My family and I were eight. The other family was four people, and there were two other guys. No one knew how to steer a boat, but one of the two guys, a Moroccan, offered to take us. The boat started moving quite slowly at first, but before I knew it, we were already far from the shore. 

As we were about to reach the halfway point, the boat began to sink. “Everyone jump!” My husband yelled as loud as he could. My daughter didn’t know how to swim. Finally, she took her dad’s hand and felt safe enough to let go of the boat. 

We had only two lifebuoy rings with us, so the other family and one of the guys took one, my family and the Moroccan guy held onto the other. There were nine of us holding the lifebuoy ring, so my husband asked us to grasp the rope around it with only one hand. He started looking for anything to draw attention to us. We used a flashlight and a plastic whistle, but we were too far out to be noticed. 

As time passed, we became extremely tired. We were freezing to death. As the sun started rising, it began to rain. The waves got higher, making it hard for us to stay together. All we could do was to pray and wait for help. One of my sons closed his eyes and stopped talking or moving. I tried to keep holding his hand, so he wouldn’t sink. The fear in our hearts reached its limit. All of us were crying, scared to death. The longer we stayed in the sea, the more exhausted we got. 

Every time we saw a car light from the shore, we started yelling. We thought it might be the coastguards, but it never was. My husband gave us his lifejacket for our youngest son. Then he began shouting and asking us to take him home to his family. We tried to tell him that we were his family, but he didn’t believe us. 

A while later, my other sons closed their eyes, and my husband kept saying in a low voice, “Forgive me.” He was feeling guilty as if all of this was his fault. While we were praying for God to save us, the man from the other family came to us and said he was going to try to swim to the shore to save us. Later we heard him scream from the top of his throat, so we thought that he might have died. My family started giving in to their exhaustion, but without letting go of each other. Only my youngest daughter and I were still awake. 

After nine hours and while I was praying to God, my youngest daughter suddenly shouted, “The coastguards are here!” I didn’t believe her, because we had been saying that every time we saw a light from the shore. But the coastguards really were in front of us. We had to drag my son and my husband to the boat because they didn’t open their eyes or move. I saw white foam coming out of my son’s mouth. The guards started giving him CPR. I didn’t know why they didn’t do the same for my husband. Nine days later, I found out that my husband was already dead. 

My son stayed in a coma for five days. Then they brought him to us, alive and well. You may be wondering how the guards found out that there were people in the sea even though it was raining and they don’t usually patrol at a time like this. Apparently, the guy who tried to swim to the shore actually made it there. Before he passed out, he told the guards that there were more people still in the sea.

When I stood on the ground, I could feel my shoes heavy from all the water. I felt so weak and sad that I think I almost collapsed the moment my feet touched the ground. That incident broke all the strength inside me, leaving me with a broken heart. I was suffering to keep hold of myself. I pretended to be strong in front of my kids who had just lost their father and suffered from this terrible trauma. Since that day, I always wear sneakers because they make me feel safe, reminding me of the happy life I had before the incident. 

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