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Boat Trip Between Bodrum And Kos Is Markedly Different For Tourists, Refugees


We're covering a story as big as the Mediterranean Sea. It's the story of refugees straining to get around or across that barrier. They're fleeing chaos in Africa or the Middle East on their way to Europe. Yesterday, we visited a Greek resort that has become a refugee destination. This morning, we meet migrants trying to reach that resort. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from the coast of Turkey, where people seek boat rides to Greece.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Bodrum is an international summer playground for people with money to spend. The harbor is crowded with luxury yachts. The shore is packed with five-star hotels. If you want to take an excursion, one of the most popular is a boat ride from Bodrum, Turkey, to the Greek island of Kos. Miriam Benchekroun (ph) is a tourist who went with some friends yesterday. When she arrived, the humanitarian crisis was unmissable.

MIRIAM BENCHEKROUN: Yeah, it was quite shocking because it was literally just people laying down on the beach with their children, and, like, there was no kind of authority.

SHAPIRO: I met her on a minibus in Bodrum. For her, the crossing from Turkey to Greece and back was one more holiday highlight, a fun catamaran ride.

BENCHEKROUN: Twenty minutes by boat, so it's not that far.

SHAPIRO: For thousands of other people, that crossing is a life-defining event, a foot in the door of the European Union with hopes for a better future. It's not an easy passage. Many people row three miles in boats without motors. Yesterday morning, five bodies were pulled from the water - Syrians who had drowned trying to reach Greece in a flimsy raft. At the Bodrum bus station, people sit in the shade waiting for night to fall so they can attempt the journey. Each one carries a single backpack. That's all smugglers will let them take on the crossing. Sherine (ph) is from Baghdad, sitting with her husband and two children. She doesn't want to give her last name.

SHERINE: You know, we escape from the war in Iraq, OK, because they tried to kidnap my daughter from the school.

SHAPIRO: Her daughter is 7.

RUKIA: My name's Rukia (ph).

SHAPIRO: Rukia says she wants to be a doctor when she grows up, but she's not gone to school for the last two years. Her mother knows this crossing to Greece is dangerous. She says there's no choice.

SHERINE: I have maybe one chance to life, but I want to use the one chance for my daughters because in Iraq there is no any chance.

SHAPIRO: Nearby, a dozen young Syrian men from Damascus say they've all met each other here and decided to look out for one another.

AHMAD: Now we are like brothers here.

SHAPIRO: Ahmad (ph) doesn't want to give his last name.

AHMAD: Tell me, what's the options? Go back to Syria - OK, we going to die. Stay here - we going to die (laughter). So this is the only option we have.

SHAPIRO: He says, of course, he knows how dangerous it is. We watch the news, he says. Then he pauses. No, we don't just watch the news. We are the news. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Bodrum, Turkey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.