Exodus documents the journey of Syrian refugees as they cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey into Greece. In the winter of 2015, over three thousand refugees attempted this treacherous crossing everyday, all in hope of seeking asylum in the European Union. It’s a life and death gamble that they are willing to take, all for a chance at a new life away from their war-torn homeland.
Greece and Turkey
I’ll never forget the moments I’d spent in the cornfields, in the mud and freezing rain with these men, women and children who had risked everything for a chance at a better life. But the images of refugees crossing the Aegean Sea along with the horrific stories that accompanied them kept haunting me. I knew that I needed to meet this beast of a sea in order to complete my journey. So once again, I boarded a plane and headed back. This time to Chios, Greece and Cesme, Turkey.
Inspired by the film of my first trip, High School Senior, Ethan Bochicchio, joined me on the second. We spent late December and early January on the island of Chios, Greece, working with international volunteers at the CHIOS EASTERN SHORE RESCUE TEAM. Our mission was to distribute food, water, blankets and relief kits to the refugees as they landed on the island, and ultimately prepare them for the next leg of their journey.
I felt a deep connection to the Aegean Sea. It has served as passage to so many people in search of a new life, a life free of war. But the sea is also a dangerous beast that has claimed many lives.
When we arrived in Turkey, we met up with a group of German doctors who were traveling to the refugee camps. I was enlisted as a translator. We had two stops on this part of our journey, a smugglers camp and an illegal Syrian settlement. Although most refugees spent only a short time in the smuggler camp, while there, they suffered from deplorable conditions and inhumane treatment. Their temporary living quarters were filthy and over-crowded. And when it was time to leave, the smugglers often forced refugees onto boats that were filled beyond safe capacity for a ridiculous price.
At least it was temporary. On the other hand, the situation in the illegal settlement was stagnant. The living conditions here were even worse than the smugglers camp. It was heartbreaking, especially with the children. Many have never known a life outside of war and struggle, yet somehow they were able to remain vibrant.
As I prepared for my return trip home from Chios, Greece, it occurred to me that there's an irony in my own story. Living in America for most of my adult life, I rebelled against Syrian culture. I tried so hard to fit in, not wanting to draw attention to my heritage. It wasn’t until the war started in Syria that I felt a change in my consciousness. For most of my life I'd been running from my roots, and in doing so, I’d abandoned a part of myself.
But at home, I felt the pull of the past once again. I heard my ancestors calling to me. I had met them on the shores of the sea, walked with them on muddy roads and through cornfields. It seemed that they were calling me closer to home. And it dawned on me, as the refugees moved further away from Syria, in search of a new life elsewhere, I moved closer to finding myself again.