War, Poverty and Pandemic

Families flee their homes to save their lives but they can't outrun the coronavirus.

 

Worldwide there are nearly 80 million people forcibly displaced from their homes.

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, many displaced families are living in camps, where tens of thousands of people share every square kilometer.

Others are homeless, without access to anything that could protect them.

Omar left Aleppo in 2015 after hearing Islamic State militants would soon take over, and seeing two mutilated corpses.

We ran from the war in Syria to Turkey.

In early March we couldn't pay the rent and we were kicked out of our apartment.

But then the aid dried up. In early March, Omar and his family were kicked out of their apartment.

Omar saw videos that made him believe the border between Turkey and Greece was opening.

After selling his belongings and borrowing money, he had just enough to get his family across the border.

We went to the border to try to seek asylum in Greece.

He didn’t know that while Turkey was opening its side of the border, Greece was not.

The Turkish government was encouraging refugees to go to the border. Turkish security forces were even helping people cross.

At that point, there were zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Turkey, but fears of the disease were spreading. Omar knew about it, but was desperate.

We crossed the river separating Turkey from Greece.

There were two boats. The families were in a wooden boat.

The young men and single men were in a rubber boat.

Then we crawled through the bushes for about a kilometer.

Our knees were bleeding and my son’s face was bleeding from thorn scratches.

My daughters fell down a large sinkhole

...I saved [one] by catching her hair.

This area is known for these holes.

Locals say it’s not uncommon over the years for refugees to die trying to cross.

We made it to the road...

...but then they arrested us.

The soldiers were large people, all of them wearing masks.

They were heavily armed.

Some were speaking to each other in English, some in Greek and some in German.

[They] put us in a truck with only small holes to breathe out of.

There were spaces for five people but they put in 20.

Each of the five places had a couple of small holes for breathing (about the size of a finger).

And we were struggling to breathe. We took turns breathing.

The soldiers acted like we were all infected with the coronavirus.

When they beat the man, they didn’t touch him.

They used their sticks.

They forced us back onto boats to Turkey. Buses picked us up at the border and left us at this bus station.

On March 19, as regional fears of COVID-19 were ramping up, VOA interviewed Omar at an Istanbul bus station where hundreds of refugees had been left with few options.

We have the virus here in Istanbul. How will you protect yourself here?

What can I do? The children are already sick.* They haven’t even showered in eight days.

* They have since tested negative for COVID-19.

 

Worldwide there are nearly 80 million people forcibly displaced from their homes.

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, many displaced families are living in camps, where tens of thousands of people share every square kilometer.

Others are homeless, without access to anything that could protect them.

Omar left Aleppo in 2015 after hearing Islamic State militants would soon take over, and seeing two mutilated corpses.

We ran from the war in Syria to Turkey.

I was sometimes a tailor but we needed loans and humanitarian aid to survive.

But then the aid dried up. In early March, Omar and his family were kicked out of their apartment.

Omar saw videos that made him believe the border between Turkey and Greece was opening.

After selling his belongings and borrowing money, he had just enough to get his family across the border.

We went to the border to try to seek asylum in Greece.

He didn’t know that while Turkey was opening its side of the border, Greece was not.

The Turkish government was encouraging refugees to go to the border. Turkish security forces were even helping people cross.

At that point, there were zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Turkey, but fears of the disease were spreading. Omar knew about it, but was desperate.

We crossed the river separating Turkey from Greece.

There were two boats. The families were in a wooden boat.

The young men and single men were in a rubber boat.

Then we crawled through the bushes for about a kilometer.

Our knees were bleeding and my son’s face was bleeding from thorn scratches.

My daughters fell down a large sinkhole

...I saved [one] by catching her hair.

This area is known for these holes.

Locals say it’s not uncommon over the years for refugees to die trying to cross.

We made it to the road...

...but then they arrested us.

The soldiers were large people, all of them wearing masks.

They were heavily armed.

Some were speaking to each other in English, some in Greek and some in German.

[They] put us in a truck with only small holes to breathe out of.

There were spaces for five people but they put in 20.

Each of the five places had a couple of small holes for breathing (about the size of a finger).

And we were struggling to breathe. We took turns breathing.

One man screamed for more air.

The soldiers beat him.

The soldiers acted like we were all infected with the coronavirus.

When they beat the man, they didn’t touch him.

They used their sticks.

They forced us back onto boats to Turkey. Buses picked us up at the border and left us at this bus station.

On March 19, as regional fears of COVID-19 were ramping up, VOA interviewed Omar at an Istanbul bus station where hundreds of refugees had been left with few options.

We have the virus here in Istanbul. How will you protect yourself here?

What can I do? The children are already sick.* They haven’t even showered in eight days.

* They have since tested negative for COVID-19.

 

Worldwide there are nearly 80 million people forcibly displaced from their homes.

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, many displaced families are living in camps, where tens of thousands of people share every square kilometer.

Others are homeless, without access to anything that could protect them.

Omar left Aleppo in 2015 after hearing Islamic State militants would soon take over, and seeing two mutilated corpses.

We ran from the war in Syria to Turkey.

I was sometimes a tailor but we needed loans and humanitarian aid to survive.

But then the aid dried up. In early March, Omar and his family were kicked out of their apartment.

Omar saw videos that made him believe the border between Turkey and Greece was opening.

After selling his belongings and borrowing money, he had just enough to get his family across the border.

We went to the border to try to seek asylum in Greece.

He didn’t know that while Turkey was opening its side of the border, Greece was not.

The Turkish government was encouraging refugees to go to the border. Turkish security forces were even helping people cross.

At that point, there were zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Turkey, but fears of the disease were spreading. Omar knew about it, but was desperate.

We crossed the river separating Turkey from Greece.

There were two boats. The families were in a wooden boat.

The young men and single men were in a rubber boat.

Then we crawled through the bushes for about a kilometer.

Our knees were bleeding and my son’s face was bleeding from thorn scratches.

My daughters fell down a large sinkhole

...I saved [one] by catching her hair.

This area is known for these holes.

Locals say it’s not uncommon over the years for refugees to die trying to cross.

We made it to the road...

...but then they arrested us.

The soldiers were large people, all of them wearing masks.

They were heavily armed.

Some were speaking to each other in English, some in Greek and some in German.

[They] put us in a truck with only small holes to breathe out of.

There were spaces for five people but they put in 20.

Each of the five places had a couple of small holes for breathing (about the size of a finger).

And we were struggling to breathe. We took turns breathing.

One man screamed for more air.

The soldiers beat him.

The soldiers acted like we were all infected with the coronavirus.

When they beat the man, they didn’t touch him.

They used their sticks.

They forced us back onto boats to Turkey. Buses picked us up at the border and left us at this bus station.

On March 19, as regional fears of COVID-19 were ramping up, VOA interviewed Omar at an Istanbul bus station where hundreds of refugees had been left with few options.

We have the virus here in Istanbul. How will you protect yourself here?

What can I do? The children are already sick.* They haven’t even showered in eight days.

* They have since tested negative for COVID-19.

 

Worldwide there are nearly 80 million people forcibly displaced from their homes.

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, many displaced families are living in camps, where tens of thousands of people share every square kilometer.

Others are homeless, without access to anything that could protect them.

Omar left Aleppo in 2015 after hearing Islamic State militants would soon take over, and seeing two mutilated corpses.

We ran from the war in Syria to Turkey.

OMAR

I was sometimes a tailor but we needed loans and humanitarian aid to survive.

Omar saw videos that made him believe the border between Turkey and Greece was opening.

But then the aid dried up. In early March, Omar and his family were kicked out of their apartment.

After selling his belongings and borrowing money, he had just enough to get his family across the border.

We went to the border to try to seek asylum in Greece.

He didn’t know that while Turkey was opening its side of the border, Greece was not.

The Turkish government was encouraging refugees to go to the border. Turkish security forces were even helping people cross.

At that point, there were zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Turkey, but fears of the disease were spreading. Omar knew about it, but was desperate.

We crossed the river separating Turkey from Greece.

There were two boats. The families were in a wooden boat.

The young men and single men were in a rubber boat.

Then we crawled through the bushes for about a kilometer.

Our knees were bleeding and my son’s face was bleeding from thorn scratches.

My daughters fell down a large sinkhole

...I saved [one] by catching her hair.

This area is known for these holes.

Locals say it’s not uncommon over the years for refugees to die trying to cross.

We made it to the road...

...but then they arrested us.

The soldiers were large people, all of them wearing masks.

They were heavily armed.

Some were speaking to each other in English, some in Greek and some in German.

[They] put us in a truck with only small holes to breathe out of.

There were spaces for five people but they put in 20.

Each of the five places had a couple of small holes for breathing (about the size of a finger).

And we were struggling to breathe. We took turns breathing.

 

One man screamed for more air.

The soldiers beat him.

The soldiers acted like we were all infected with the coronavirus.

When they beat the man, they didn’t touch him.

They used their sticks.

They forced us back onto boats to Turkey. Buses picked us up at the border and left us at this bus station.

On March 19, as regional fears of COVID-19 were ramping up, VOA interviewed Omar at an Istanbul bus station where hundreds of refugees had been left with few options.

We have the virus here in Istanbul. How will you protect yourself here?

What can I do? The children are already sick.* They haven’t even showered in eight days.

* They have since tested negative for COVID-19.