The journey, with six Syrian friends, started in Beirut where they caught a flight to Algiers to meet a smuggler. Syrians don’t need a visa to get into Algeria but each adult has to carry a minimum of $4,000 cash. “We were at risk because the smugglers in Algeria and Libya know that we are carrying a lot of money, sometimes a lifetimes’ worth of savings,” says Mr Rez. From Algiers the group took a bus for 13 hours through the desert to Hassi Messaoud in the eastern province where they were passed to another group of Algerian smugglers, who demanded another $800 per person. By the time they reached Dubdab on the Libyan boarder, after a 10-hour bus journey, they were exhausted. “We had not eaten or drunk anything for days, our clothes stank and there was no bathroom in sight,” says Ms Rez.
Night had fallen by the time they crossed the border into Libya on foot. There they were transferred to armed Libyan rebels and remained in squalid conditions in the outskirts of Ghadames, a town on the Algerian-Libyan border south-west of Tripoli, for four days awaiting the smugglers’ next move—and their fate. “We were terrified. If anyone annoyed them they just started shooting into the air with their Kalashnikovs,” says Mr Rez, who suffered from the hot sun and dust of the desert.
On the fourth day the group was crammed into open-air lorries and taken on a 16-hour journey across the Libyan desert to the coastal city of Zwara where they would sail for Italy. They had been promised lifejackets and that the boat would take no more than 200 passengers. Instead they found themselves crammed in with 500 other immigrants. The boat was split into three levels, the lower one for African immigrants, who paid $200, and the upper levels made up of mostly Syrians, who paid $1,000 each. “All the women and children were crying and many were reading the Koran in loud voices," says Ms Rez.
After 15 hours, at around 7.30pm on August 24th, the journey took its worse turn yet when the boat began to sink. The Rez siblings were on the upper deck at the time. “Rasha can’t swim but I pushed her into the water and dragged her away from the boat," says Mr Rez. "All who stayed on the boat were drowned.” After four hours in the water the Italian authorities arrived to rescue the survivors. They were taken to a camp in Sicily to rest and identify some of the 200 dead, among them two of their friends, Kinan Hijrazi and Khaled Aweiti from Damascus.
“We thought we would be so happy to be in Europe but we feel numb,” says Ms Rez. Now in Milan, the siblings are quickly running out of money and have yet to pay a smuggler to drive them to Sweden through Switzerland and Germany. Ms Rez has lost her passport, shoes, glasses and money in the sea. She hopes she can prove her identity when she finally arrives and asks for asylum in Sweden.