MOLIVOS, Greece: The 26-year-old Syrian economics graduate knew exactly what to do and where to go. Amr Zaidah, with the aid of GPS, helped pilot the inflatable boat that brought him and about 30 more migrants to the closest spot to the village of Molivos on Lesbos, one of several Greek islands that have this summer served the tens of thousands of migrants as a first stop on the journey to western Europe. Molivos, he knew, was where buses were taking migrants to the capital of Lesbos, Mytilene, some 50 km to the south.
The alternative would be a punishing trek on narrow dirt tracks hugging the coast and lined by olive trees, a stretch of highway and a narrow road that cuts through rolling hills. At Mytilene, Zaidah also knew, he and the eight friends he came with could seek the official document that allows them to continue their journey. “I have researched our journey for more than two months,” said Zaidah, a native of the Syrian city of Aleppo who has worked the past two years as an accountant in Istanbul. “I used social media networks to look into where to go, who is the best smuggler to hire and what stuff we needed for the trip,” he said as he had chocolate cake and coffee at a posh seafront cafe, his sneakers still wet from the landing. “I familiarized myself with weather forecasts, wind patterns and how to avoid being conned out of our money by smugglers.” Zaidah is one of the thousands of mostly young Syrians and Iraqis who have been taking advantage of social media networks and smartphone apps to guide their journey across the sea from Turkey and onward to Western Europe.
On one Facebook group, for example, Syrians and others who already made the trip across the Aegean Sea share the names and telephone numbers of good smugglers in Turkey, warn of pitfalls and give other advice. Called “Al-Mushantateen,” a play on the Arabic words for “suitcase” and “diaspora,” the group includes posts by volunteers who offer services like calling the coastguard if a passenger on a dinghy sends a distress call.
The advice covers the journey beyond Greece to Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Western Europe. Zaidah and his group already know which border points they will cross, hotels they can stay in and stores where they can get clothes more suitable for the fall weather as they head north. The advantages of such groups are evident. While Zaidah and his friends headed straight to Molivos for the free bus rides, many others set off on the journey to Mytilene on foot under the merciless summer heat and humidity.
For families with elderly and children, it can take up to three days to reach the town, unless along the way they happen upon a kind-hearted Greek or NGO worker, who sometimes give families a lift. Halfway through the walk, the migrants look dazed, dragging their feet up and down one hill after another, taking occasional breaks in the shade on the side of the road. Jouan, a 29-yearold English teacher from Syria, arrived in Mytilene after a 16-hour walk, chafed and exhausted. “No one stopped for me, though they did pick up old people or families,” he said Wednesday, speaking on condition he be identified only by his first name to protect family back in Syria. — AP