by Zamdar Ahmed
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A number of Kurds, in their attempt to travel through Turkey illegally to seek asylum in Germany, were imprisoned and eventually ended up in the hands of the Nusra Front in Syria.
Harem, his brother Hunar, and his maternal and paternal cousins left the Kurdistan Region in August 2017 in an attempt to seek asylum in Germany.
After staying in Turkey for a month, they headed from Istanbul along with another 150 immigrants with intent to travel by boat from the Black Sea to Romania and then on to Germany. However, Harem and some other immigrants ended up in Syria instead.
Harem, a university student at the time he left the Region, said they were only a few hours away from Romanian waters in Bulgarian waters when their boat ran out of fuel and they got stuck at sea.
After seeing the green lights of the Romanian police ships, the migrants had hoped to be rescued, but after their captain spoke with police on the radio they had been told that they were within Bulgarian borders, hence the Romanian police were unable to provide assistance.
They then waited for Bulgarian police to rescue them after they lost hope in Romanian police.
“The Bulgarian police reached us and our captain asked them for fuel,” Harem said. “The Bulgarian police then gave us some fuel and water to all the immigrants.”
After running out of fuel again, they encountered a large Turkish vessel, only to find out it was the Turkish coast guard.
“We didn’t know it was a Turkish police boat tipped off by Romanian police,” Harem recounted. “The police took all the immigrants into the large ship. They questioned us one by one and wrote down all of our names.”
He said that all the immigrants registered themselves as Syrians.
“The police were yelling at us,” he continued. “They were good to women and children, but not to the youth. After staying in the water for 12 hours, we finally reached the Turkish border.”
“They first took us to a Turkish military base and took our fingerprints,” Harem said. “They then took us to a seven-story prison after staying at the base for one day and a night.”
The migrants were held in prison for 22 days and were investigated several times.
“They frequently asked where we were from, and we told them Qamishli. Our interpreter told us we would be freed if we said we came from Syria,” Harem said.
Harem added that prisoner conditions were very bad and they were even beaten with canes by the police. He also said the police slapped one prisoner so badly that he lost his hearing.
“After 22 days, they brought four big buses and took the immigrants toward the airport,” he said. “They then took us to the Syrian border and handed all the immigrants over to the Nusra Front.”
The Nusra Front first placed all of the migrants in a government building. After investigations, they gave them a piece of paper and released them. The migrants were then sent toward Afrin in 11 minibuses. A checkpoint they went through took the papers that had been previously given to them.
They come across another checkpoint and were subjected to another round of investigations. At this checkpoint, they all had said they had come from Qamishlo, but officials at the checkpoint discovered they were from Iraq by their phone numbers. Out of the 180 immigrants, they released the families but detained 16 individuals.
“We cried and they released us too. But our cries were a temporary solution,” Harem said.
“Around 8 p.m. they blindfolded us and we thought they were going to kill us,” he continued. “They took us to a prison while we were blindfolded. We stayed in the prison for three nights, which felt like spending three years there.”
“They thoroughly investigated us all. They then took us to the checkpoint where we were temporarily arrested and then released,” Harem said. “After one hour, we went to the YPG controlled area at our own expense. This is how we escaped the Nusra Front.”
“In Afrin, we contacted our families in Kurdistan,” Harem continued. “My brother Hunar had already returned home but I don’t know how.”
“The YPG sent one of their persons with us so we could go from Afrin to Azaz,” he said. “But they didn’t allow us to because there were SDF and Euphrates Shield forces there. There were also ISIS militants in al-Bab. They returned us to Afrin eventually.”
Harem said that he and nine other immigrants stayed in a government building under the supervision of the YPG in Afrin.
“The YPG fighters said there was no way out because they were surrounded by military forces,” he added. “They said the situation was very bad, telling us we were young and had to wait otherwise we would run into trouble if we left there.”
“I was in contact with my family via the internet, asking them for a way out,” Harem continued. “Our relatives had spoken to a brother of Osman Baydemir who had promised them to do his best to release us.”
“He kept his promise,” he added. “The YPG and the Syrian army reached an agreement. They sent us from Afrin to Manbij. We went through Bashar al Assad’s forces. We then stayed in Manbij for a week.”
Harem was returned to Sulaimani via helicopter on December 22 of last year after being stranded in Syria for 90 days.
“My parents and relatives were waiting for me. I had mixed feelings when I saw them again. This is something unforgettable,” he said.