Seeking A Better Life, A Migrant Survives A Shipwreck And Wonders What's Next : Parallels More than 200 migrants drowned on Sept. 21 trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, in search of better lives. A survivor explains why he risked the journey.
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Seeking A Better Life, A Migrant Survives A Shipwreck And Wonders What's Next

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Seeking A Better Life, A Migrant Survives A Shipwreck And Wonders What's Next

Seeking A Better Life, A Migrant Survives A Shipwreck And Wonders What's Next

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There was desperation this past week at an Egyptian port. People waited for word on relatives, migrants on a fishing boat that had sunk days earlier. They were trying to get to Europe. Authorities say 200 people drowned. NPR's Jane Arraf reports they were fleeing a country that can't support them.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: On the rocky coast of the Mediterranean in the north of Egypt, dozens of men gathered on the shore, shouting at a small group of soldiers. They're waiting for the navy to raise the fishing boat that had more than 400 people jammed on board, including in a storage locker below deck, when it sank. The passengers included children as young as 13, all hoping to get smuggled to Italy. The dead were from a few countries, but more than half were believed to be Egyptian. Relatives stopped hoping days ago that anyone else would be found alive. Now they just want to get the bodies back.

HANNI MOHAMMED AHMED: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: Hanni Mohammed Ahmed is one of the men standing at the port. He says he was heading back from a fishing trip when he heard about the sinking. He and his friends rescued 96 people.

AHMED: (Through interpreter) Some had life jackets. Some of them were swimming. Some were holding on to a piece of foam. I picked up one who was hanging on to a body.

ARRAF: There's a black navy boat with a mounted machine gun that's just pulled up, and it looks like there are body bags on it. They're black plastic bags that are piled on top of each other. It's hard to see because the soldiers have joined hands and they're trying to keep back the crowd. Some of these people have been here for almost a week waiting to see if it's their relatives who are coming in those body bags.

HASSAN SAID: The life is very hard. Very hard.

ARRAF: That's Hassan Said (ph). He's a schoolteacher from the village of Jazirat al-Khuthera, Green Island, where a lot of the young men came from. He's come to the port to support his friends. Life has always been hard in these rural villages, but the lack of jobs and rising prices have made it even tougher. Said is 30 and the father of two children, and he's also planning to leave. Years ago, he worked in Ireland in a bakery, and he's trying to legally emigrate there. People here are angry that it was volunteers on fishing boats and not the government who rescued survivors. Even for survivors, the ordeal isn't over. Police are taking people in for questioning. Many are afraid to talk. We tracked down one of them.

OMAR: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: Omar would give us only his first name. Hunched over, he seems still in shock. He barely makes eye contact. He says the engine failed in the first boat they were in. When they were transferred to the fishing boat, it sank under the weight of the extra passengers. Omar swam until he was rescued by local fishermen. Even after a week, his mother has no idea where he is.

OMAR: (Through interpreter) I still haven't gone back to my town. I still haven't gone home. I'm afraid to go home.

ARRAF: It's because he borrowed the equivalent of almost $3,000 to pay the smugglers - a fortune here. He has no way to pay it back.

OMAR: (Through interpreter) I didn't achieve the dream I wanted. And if I go back, I will be caught. The people want their money.

ARRAF: Omar's father is dead and he's an only child. He has a diploma from agricultural college, but he can't find a job and he can't support his mother.

OMAR: (Through interpreter) I would accept any work. Our circumstances here are difficult. I can't take care of my mother. I will work in anything to pay back some money and send her some money so I can call her and tell her I'm OK.

ARRAF: But Omar isn't OK, and neither are other young men whose families are afraid will risk everything to leave a country where they see no future. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Rosetta, Egypt.

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