The last hours before driving into the Unknown


A bay between Dikili and Çandarli, Turkey
A bend on the elevated coastal road. The car is driving slowly, our contact suggests we take a closer look. Then we see a small path that winds through the rocks down to the sea. Exactly at this cove begins for thousands of people the last part of their flight to Europe.

Text and images: Michael Bonvalot und Tanja Boukal

We follow the path to the water on foot. At the fireplaces that can be seen everywhere, the people must have warmed themselves sufficiently. It can still get very cold here at night.

Clothes are scattered everywhere, and among them we see individual shoes, crushed water bottles, and empty medicine boxes.

The objects left behind suggest that there are many children waiting for the crossing as well. Used diapers, baby gloves, a bottle.

Our contact tells us that parents often tell their children that they are on vacation here and are about to go on a boat trip. In reality, however, the trip is life threatening. Floats and flippers may protect you from sinking, but in the cold water there is hardly any chance of survival.

We also see a lot of packaging for inflatable boat repair kits, we see packaging for pumps and compressors. However, the dinghies are often completely overfilled. Anyone who protests is threatened by the boatmen, as our contact, a local refugee helper, tells us.

The Greek island of Lesbos is only about 15 kilometers away, its lights reflected in the evening light. But the wind conditions and the currents make the trip life-threatening. Thousands of people are thought to have drowned along the coast between Turkey and the Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios. No one knows the exact number.

Finally we arrive at the water. The first time we visit the bay in the evening, the water is still clear. But the next morning, when we return, clothes are floating all over the bay. It seems as if the current had swept them along.

Were their clothes left behind before they left, or was it a desperate attempt to make the boat lighter? What had become of these people? Did they survive the trip on the boat? We do not know. We can only hope for them.