22 Dec 2015
The ex-swimmer trained for nearly every day with a coach in the sea off the coast of Beirut to make the crossing
A desperate Syrian refugee has revealed how he braved massive waves and deadly currents to swim for seven hours to reach Greece from Turkey.
Ameer Mehtr explained he did not have enough money to pay smugglers to transport him to Europe after his family lost their home and were left penniless as a result of the five-year civil war ravaging his homeland.
Having previously trained with the Syrian national swimming team in the capital Damascus, Mr Mehtr realised his only chance of starting a new life in the EU was to take his chances swimming the four miles across the Aegan Sea from Turkey to the Greek island of Samos.
The refugee, whose age was not clear, spent several months preparing for the perilous crossing, training nearly every day with a swimming coach in the sea off the coast of Lebanese capital Beirut, where he had been living after fleeing Syria in May.
It was not until September that he felt ready to attempt the crossing, having spent time studying maps of the Aegan to work out the shortest route between Turkey and Samos.
On the night he finally took to the water near the town of Guzelcamli, Mr Mehtr said he had to run for more than an hour to evade Turkish police officers who line the beach looking for people smugglers.
Already exhausted, the risk of being caught meant Mr Mehtr was forced to start swimming as soon as he entered the water wearing only swimming trunks, a swimming cap, goggles and a nose clip.
A handful of personal possessions, including a telephone and several computer chips filled with old photographs of his family and homeland, were tied to his waist. Mr Mehtr also carried a handful of ginger-flavoured dates wrapped in cling film – his only source of energy and nutrition on the journey.
“Every second of the way I thought I was going to die,” he told The Sunday Times, who he spoke to from an asylum centre in Sweden.
“But I kept going. I just kept looking at the cliffs in front of me and thinking ‘Here is my future’,” he said.
Against all odds, Mr Mehtr eventually made it to Samos, where he was photographed standing triumphantly on the shore with his arms outstretched and a large smile on his face.
His ordeal was far from over, however, as he had to walk for seven miles before reaching a port where he could be officially registered with EU officials as a refugee.
He then spent a month living in European refugee camps and travelling on trains packed with migrants to reach Sweden.
Mr Mehtr is now living in an asylum centre in the Scandinavian nation, where he claimed his story was certainly not unique.
“I’m far from the only one who has made this journey – there are many more who have been swimming,” he said.
“We have a Facebook group and from my bed in Sweden, I have told several how to pack and how to think in order to make the transition… But right now, no one swims, it’s too cold in the water.”