There’s something about swimming in open water that I find quite unsettling. Perhaps it’s the unknowable enormity of the ocean or maybe it’s just the thought of the horrible sea monsters which could be lurking in the deep. But with his passion for swimming, Ameer Mehtr was certainly no stranger to open water. However, it was desperation which drove him to swim for seven hours from Turkey to Greece.
A Syrian refugee, he left his homeland in May after losing everything he had as a result of Syria’s civil war. Having already trained with the Syrian national swimming team in Damascus, he was a very strong swimmer.
But to prepare for the crossing he had to spend almost every day training with a swimming coach off the coast of Beirut.
A number of refugees have crossed the Aegan Sea from Turkey to the Greek island of Samos and Mehtr could have paid smugglers to help him make the crossing. However, he simply didn’t have the money. Instead, he spent hours studying maps and currents before taking the plunge.
He had to evade Turkish police, who were looking for people smugglers, for more than an hour. He then swam for seven hours with just a few possessions, including some flavoured dates, tied to his waist.
He then had to walk another seven miles before he could register as a refugee. The journey was tortuous but he believes it was worth it.
But it didn’t stop there. He had to spend a further month getting to his current location – a refugee camp in Sweden. Speaking to the The Sunday Times, Mehtr stated: “Every second of the way I thought I was going to die. But I kept going.
I just kept looking at the cliffs in front of me and thinking ‘Here is my future’.”
Almost a million migrants have arrived to Europe by sea this year, with many taking huge risks in the hope of finding a better life, away from war and persecution.
“I’m far from the only one who has made this journey – there are many more who have been swimming,” Mehtr stated.