SYLVIE AND JOELLE: Survivors of the shipwreck of 24 April 2017 between Turkey and Greece

Sylvie

I start from the moment we were in Turkey. I am Sylvie and I am 42 years old. I left Turkey on the 20 April 2017, I was only 3 days in Izmir. Joelle and me didn’t know one another. We met in the dinghy. To start with: I could not enter, I just wanted to escape. We were 24 people. I all the time went back, giving space for others to enter first. I entered the boat last because I was scared. While trying to get inside, my bag was creating obstacles, so I passed it over to Joelle and told her: „Please help me“. She took my bag. I then entered the dinghy and told her to hand me the bag back. She answered: „You gave me the bag, let it be with me. I will give it to you when we arrive. No problem.“
„Ok, no problem,” I replied.

We were uncomfortable there, too many people. We were suffocating. I preferred to give her the bag. The time was 21 o’clock. We had started.

All of a sudden in the middle of the sea the fuel finished. I wanted to take my bag from Joelle to take out my phone. All telephones were switched off. We had asked a boy to turn on his phone and call for help, but he did not. So, I asked Joelle for my phone that was in the bag. She opened my bag, gave me my phone. The time I wanted to call, a wave came and took the phone in the sea.

That’s how the worst nightmare started. The dinghy started sinking in the water. (She stops talking)
I cannot continue … can you Joelle?

Joelle

I left Turkey because I was pregnant and as a single woman I felt so badly unsafe there. I was looking for somewhere where me and my baby could be safe.

To finally arrive here to Greece we had first to cross the border from turkey. We stayed in the woods until at the coast one night and then we started.

I entered the dinghy after all others and together with Sylvie. When we started, I don’t know why, but I had a bad feeling… I started crying. Just like this.

Because I am Christian I started praying. I prayed to God that he gives grace to me and let me arrive safely at our destination. I was crying. One of my Congolese sisters, Guilaine, asked me: „Why are you crying?“ I told her: “I don’t know, why I cry but I have such a strange feeling.“ „No”, she said, „you cry because you pray to God to bless you, but when you pray you should not cry.“ So, I told her: „Ok I will stop.“

There where two children with us, who started crying too. They were crying all the time as if something would happen and they felt it. They cried. We were too many people inside the boat and it was too small for us all.

The driver said to me: „Tell your brothers and sisters not to smoke, there is fuel on board and the boat will explode.“

After five minutes, I felt the water coming inside the boat and my feet getting wet. I myself had nothing with me. I asked the others to throw their bags in the water to reduce the overweight. I was begging them. I had only the blue bible with me, a soap to wash myself and the clothes I was wearing… nothing more.


The people said: „Now we are safe, they will come to save us.“ When the motor stopped, I asked one guy: „Call the rescuers “, but he didn’t want. He said: „I can’t open my phone because if I open it the police will come and catch us and return us back.“ I said: „I prefer to be caught, than to die.” Sylvie understood and said: „Give me my phone from my bag, I will call.“ The short time until I gave it to her, we already started sinking. It went very fast.

I was pregnant in the 8 month. My belly was so big that I thought I will give birth to a baby of 4 kilos. The rescue jacket did not close. A man from Mali took some strings and attached it around me to tie my life-vest. We were sinking and the waves slowly carried away each of us to another direction.

I was drifting with Guilaine, and then we saw also Teddy. I felt suddenly a strong feeling of power in me. I don’t even know where this came from.

Where we fell in the sea there was nothing, no boats no fishermen, no police no one. We stayed there all night in the sea. When the morning came, I said to Guilaine: „Don’t cry, they will come and rescue us.“ Guliaine said: „No. You see the whole night no one came.” I told her: „Ok at night they didn’t appear because it was so dark and cold. I believe they will rescue us now.“ I believed in that, because the daylight came. Gulialine said: „Ok no problem.“ But I know she was doubting.

Teddy told us we had to stay awake and we should not fall asleep in the sea. Gulaine said: „I am tired, I can’t anymore, I really can’t anymore.“ She asked for help. „You know my situation,” I replied, “I don’t have a way to help you, I cannot even help myself.“ It was horrible. After two hours, a wave separated us. I stayed all alone. Completely on my own in the sea.

I was crying but inside me a voice was telling me: „Don’t cry. Who tells you that you won’t get rescued or that you will die?“ I spoke to God: „Ok. Your will will happen. Because I cannot do anything anymore. I am in your hands.“ I was so tired and exhausted. I slept and while sleeping I was fighting to change my position. I was thinking: „God, if you help me to get out of this sea I will be grateful forever.“

Suddenly, I saw a huge boat coming towards me, but it turned away. I asked myself why? Then I saw another boat, like the ones people use to cross the border but it was bigger and of orange color. It was not still far of me, when I saw a white person jump in the sea to rescue me. “She is pregnant,” I heard her scream.

They took me, gave me medicine and brought me to the land. They asked me: „how many are you?“ I said we were 26. I didn’t know where the others were. I don’t know what happened then. They left me. I believe they went to find the others. Then I saw Sylvie. „Where are the others? Let’s hope they bring them even if they are not alive.“ But in the end no one else could ever join us again of our group.

Until they brought us to hospital we heard nothing. The same evening I saw a psychologist with his assistant and I asked them: „Where are my brothers and sisters?“ They didn’t answer.

Then the police came to interrogate me. I asked again: „Where are my friends?” They didn’t answer.

I said: „Ok, don’t tell that a whole day and a whole night the people are still in the sea and they are alive? Tell me if they are dead or alive.“ Then, I understood that none was alive, only Sylvie and me.

I was pregnant in the 8th month, so we stayed alive, me, Sylvie and Victoria. God’s grace was with us that day. Far away from our families, far away from friends, life is difficult. We always have to fight for a tomorrow, because god allowed us to survive. I know marvellous things will still happen to us.

The first person I met after the shipwreck were the rescuers Giannis and Nicola. I want to use the opportunity to thank them because it was thanks to God and them, that we are still alive. Today, I have a beautiful small girl. Her name is Victoria-Miracle and that’s why I want to say thank you to our rescuers. Because they do an incredible job. To rescue people, you have to have a big heart. We are alive because of them. Thank you and God should give you grace and a long life so that you can rescue many other people who get in desperate situations. And thanks to Iliaktida, to my social worker Victoria, and to the UNHCR. Thank you all!

Sylvie

When the dinghy was sinking, we sank too. We were four people holding hands. We were talking to one another giving each other courage.

In the beginning, we were 24 people on the boat: 19 blacks and 5 white. Among us were also two kids and their mother and father. Syrians. The Syrian man was pulling my hair so I could see. I had the hair in my face in the water. I don’t know what separated me from them. A wave… and then I was alone.

Joelle

I was still with Sylvie, when she was telling me: „Stay strong.“ I told her to stay strong too. But all of a sudden, when I called the next time her name, I heard nothing. No voice in the sea. We all were shouting loud but I heard nothing. I was scared and thought maybe they will leave me back, abandoned me. I was afraid rescuers would come but not find me. I started screaming: „Save me, save me!“

Nothing. The day came. The waves. I had to go with the rhythm of the waves. When a wave came, I turned away my head. I should not sleep. Because if you sleep… I had a strong faith in me. I knew someone will come and rescue me, that gave me comfort. If I had lost this faith I wouldn’t be alive now.

Sylvia

In the sea, I saw a big boat, like Joelle did. It was coming to me. I screamed: „I am here. I am here!“ Nothing, they passed by. The waves where huge. Huge!

Around 14-15 hours I still had faith although I was so long in the sea. I had prayed to all gods in that time: the gods of Greece, the gods of Turkey all gods. I said to them: come to save us, take care of us. Even when a bird passed by near me I asked it for help. Even the fly that came near to me I asked for help. I talked with the waves and the wind and with the animals.

When I saw the boats, it was as if I was asleep and walk up and saw it pass by and screamed:
“I am here!“ They threw a rope and I tried to hold it but I was to tired, I could not. Someone jumped in the sea and hold me. They put me on the boat and covered me with plastic to make my body warm. The sea salt had burned my eyes, I could not see. I was blind.

They brought me to Joelle. I heard her voice. Me and Joelle were taken by the ambulance to hospital. God is the god of goodness, forgiveness and miracles. When you don’t expect it, then he appears and intervenes. I will pray to him all my life. If he sends me back to earth it is because I haven’t finished my mission and I promise him I will complete it. Until the very last day of my life.

The red bag

We were holding this red bag together. I don’t know if it is this red bag that kept us alive and together until today. Or if it was Victoria in the belly together with the bag. Joelle was holding all the time the bag in the sea. When we were saved and brought away the ambulance, she returned it back to me. And the crazy thing is, she even had one more bag on her back all the time that did not belong to us. She had it on her back all the hours in the sea and in the hospital she gave it away because it actually didn’t belong to us.

Joelle

I didn’t know what was in the bag. I just believed we will get rescued. My friend had trusted me to take care of something that I could actually not take care of. If someone gives you something you have to take care because sometimes thieves come and steel from you something that is not yours. I took it serious that responsibility, it is normal.

I thought: „Maybe she has all her money inside. I can’t abandon the bag.“ In total I had two bags. The big one I didn’t know to whom it belonged. I thought the person will need it. They rescued me with this strangers bag and Sylvies bag. And when I came out of the sea I gave both back. The red one I gave it to Sylvie. I had spent all time in the sea with these two bags. So now we are here and the bags too and it’s an incredible joy that we are still alive.

When I came to hospital I was scared for my baby. I was afraid, that she might have health problems, but they made an echography and said: „No, the baby is ok.“ She is my angel. She is my joy and my power. I believe, I would have died if she was not in me. God really pitied us. It’s really a miracle.

I call my baby girl Victoria-Miracle.

The infomobile

... is like a “paper boat”. We chose this as a metaphor for what we want to create and for the situation of refugees and migrants in Greece. The paper boat is a folded boat able to swim – for a while. Then you have to build a new one to go on travelling. A paper boat is symbolic for the journey of life, vulnerable but in your own hands and to be recreated again and again. It is simple, but it carries many hopes and dreams. It can dance on a turbulent sea. It belongs to everybody. And it might become the small version – like a first draft – of a welcome-space.

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