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The New Odyssey

The Story of Europe's Refugee Crisis
Patrick Kingsley
Publisher
Faber/Guardian
Price
£14.99
ISBN
9781783351053


EXTRACT COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL

From the Prologue Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 11 pm

In the darkness far out to sea, Hashem al-Souki can't see his neighbours but he can hear them scream. It's partly his fault. They are two African women - perhaps from Somalia, but now is not the time to ask - and Hashem is spreadeagled on top of them. His limbs dig into theirs. They want him to move, fast, and so would he. But he can't - several people are sprawled on top of him, and there's possibly another layer above them. Dozens are crammed into this wooden dinghy. If anyone tries to shift, a smuggler kicks them back into place. They don't want the crammed boat to overbalance, and then sink.

It is perhaps eleven at night, but Hashem can't be certain. He's losing track of time, and of place. Earlier in the even­ing, on a beach at the northernmost tip of Egypt, he and his companions were herded into this little boat. Now that boat is who-knows-where, bobbing along in the pitch darkness, lurching in the waves, somewhere in the south-eastern Mediterranean. And its passengers are screaming.

Some of the screams are in Arabic, some not. There are people from across Africa here, others from across the Middle East. There are Palestinians, Sudanese and Somalians. And Syrians, like Hashem. They want to get to northern Europe: Sweden, Germany, or anywhere that offers them a better future than their collapsed homelands. For that distant hope they are risking this boat trip to the Italian coast. All being well, they should reach Italy in five or six days. But, for now, Hashem doesn't know if he'll survive the night. Or if anyone will.

An hour passes. They reach a second boat, a bigger one, and then a third, bigger still. At each new vessel, the smug­glers toss them over the side like bags of potatoes. Now they have a bit more space, but they're soaked. They had to wade through the waves to get to the dinghy, and the second boat was full of water. Their clothes drenched, they shiver. And they retch. The person squeezed to his left pukes all over Hashem. Then Hashem pays the favour forward, spewing all over the person to his right. He looks up, and realises everyone's at it; everyone's clothes are caked in other people's vomit. Each has paid more than $2000 to spew over fellow refugees. 'It's a vomiting party,' Hashem thinks to himself.

4

Perhaps the most extraordinary part of this scene is just how ordinary it has become. The world is currently witnessing the biggest wave of mass migration since the Second World War - and the most dramatic example of this phenomenon is occurring in the Mediterranean sea. In 2014 and 2015, around 1.2 million people crossed the Mediterranean in leaking boats like this one.1 The European Union believes that between 2016 and 2018 over 3 million more could fol­low in their wake, as civil wars in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq push an unprecedented number of people towards Europe. For years, the burden of the global refugee crisis has largely been borne by the developing world, which the UN says is being well, they should reach Italy in five or six days. But, for now, Hashem doesn't know if he'll survive the night. Or if anyone will.

An hour passes. They reach a second boat, a bigger one, and then a third, bigger still. At each new vessel, the smug­glers toss them over the side like bags of potatoes. Now they have a bit more space, but they're soaked. They had to wade through the waves to get to the dinghy, and the second boat was full of water. Their clothes drenched, they shiver. And they retch. The person squeezed to his left pukes all over Hashem. Then Hashem pays the favour forward, spewing all over the person to his right. He looks up, and realises everyone's at it; everyone's clothes are caked in other people's vomit. Each has paid more than $2000 to spew over fellow refugees. 'It's a vomiting party,' Hashem thinks to himself.