Man on crutches in ISIS area, nearly drowns, but makes it to the Netherlands
In late August of this year we got to know him, Rafiq, a 65-year-old Palestinian from Syria, sweaty and exhausted, breathing heavily and inching, using crutches, crossing the border between Serbia and Hungary. He wanted only one thing: to go to the Netherlands. Correspondent Marcel van der Steen saw him disappear into the night.
Van der Steen decided to keep in touch with Rafiq and recently received notice that he had managed to reach the Netherlands. Rafiq is now staying in the Panopticon Prison in Haarlem, which is now an emergency shelter. Reporter Nicole le Fever met him there.
Rafiq’s journey is hard to summarize. To flee Syria he had to cross ISIS territory. A Chechen stopped him and asked why he had no beard. “That does not grow with me,” he replied. But the young man thought that was not a good excuse and Rafiq received twenty lashes.
When asked if he smoked, he lied, because he had heard that he should never admit it. Fortunately, the cigarette pack that he had was not found on him. Finally, the legs of his trousers above his ankles were cut off because Muslim men, according to tradition, must not wear clothing over their ankles.
Once in Turkey, it turned out that as a Palestinian he was not allowed to stay because he had no papers. “Stateless”, therefore, says the new card which he received from the Dutch authorities.
So the only way was to try to reach a Greek island by boat. The first attempt failed. The boat made water and Rafiq would have drowned if he would not have been saved by an Iraqi friend. The second attempt succeeded though.
Late August Marcel van der Steen saw him stumble in the dark towards the Hungarian border. He managed to enter the country and for 1000 euros he took a taxi to Germany. The last stage, to Amsterdam Central Station, was by train. There he got a ticket for the train and bus to Ter Apel refugee camp to report there.
Rafiq is grateful that he has arrived safely in the Netherlands. Syria and his problems with the government he won’t talk about much because he is worried about his wife, who stayed behind in Syria. However, he talks about his old life, including in Dubai and Eastern Europe, where he used to own electronics stores and a furniture store.
Will he still see his wife?
His greatest wish is that his wife may come to the Netherlands, but he is concerned about the length of the procedure. First he was told he would hear something within 5 to 12 months, but that is now a year. And then it takes another year before family members can come. Rafiq is afraid that he will not live that long.
All is not well with his health. He has many problems with his legs and kidneys. He also has to follow a special diet. Fortunately, he gets help from two Syrians in the cell next to him. They help him out of bed and with cleaning. For one of his neighbours bad news came today. One of his sons was killed in Syria and his 16-year-old daughter has remained all alone. The man is desperate.
“So, we all have our stories and problems.” says Rafiq.
While thousands of refugees risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean each day to commence an arduous journey through the Balkans, the governing coalition in Berlin is fighting over the most effective way to send them back: here.