Refugee Week Book Blog: Crossing the sea with Syrians on the exodus to Europe by Wolfgang Bauer, trans. Sarah Pybus

Crossing the sea with Syrians on the exodus to Europe by Wolfgang Bauer, translated from German by Sarah Pybus (And Other Stories).

In 2014, award-winning journalist Wolfgang Bauer and photographer Stanislav Krupar go undercover, joining a group of Syrians trying to get across the sea to Europe. Witnessing first-hand the smuggler gangs, the desperation, the anxiety and the very real dangers of drowning, this is Wolfgang Bauer’s account of his attempt to cross the sea.

It is a deeply moving story of human desperation and determination. These are not just facts and figures we hear about on the radio and read about in the paper; these are people with lives and families.

After days of travelling across land and hiding in flats, waiting for the right moment to cross, Wolfgang and Stanislav’s attempt to cross the sea ends in arrest and deportation. A poignant moment is where Wolfgang and Stanislav have revealed their true identities and Wolfgang observes that “in a matter of seconds, those papers transformed us into different people. From prisoners to privileged frequent flyers”.

After their deportation, Wolfgang has to follow his friends’ journeys from afar. One of the men, Amar (not his real name), makes so many attempts to cross the sea, thinking all the while of his wife and children who will follow him once he makes it. Time and again his efforts are thwarted and he returns to the same cheap hotel to plan his next move. When he finally made it across, having travelled to Africa and taken a flight to Germany on a false passport, I was moved to tears.

We are also told of the journey of brothers Alaa and Hussan, who get onto a boat and make that perilous crossing. In the description of that crossing it is plain to see the panic, the fear, the despair of those on board and the realisation of how near death may be : “We might die out here.”

The book finishes with an impassioned plea from Wolfgang Bauer: “Stop forcing men, women and children onto the boats. Have mercy”. Will the world take note?

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