Rescue of stranded Syrian migrants captured on video

When a small boat with Syrian refugees, fleeing war in their country, broke down in the Mediterranean Sea, one woman captured their rescue by Greek forces on her smartphone. Geraint Vincent of Independent Television News reports.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The United Nations says between 10,000 and 20,000 migrants may die crossing the Mediterranean this summer in search of safety and a better life. Many are fleeing the war in Syria, a conflict that's created nearly four million refugees.

    Tonight, we focus on the story of one of those Syrians who documented her recent rescue on her smartphone.

    Geraint Vincent of Independent Television News has the story.

  • GERAINT VINCENT:

    Adrift in the dead of night, 24 Syrian refugees look out from their little boat across the Mediterranean Sea. In the darkness, they can see two lights. One of them is the moon. The other sits on the horizon.

    They argue about what the light is. Is it on land or is it a coast guard boat on its way to rescue them? The refugees whistle and hold up their mobile phones to attract attention. And the light gets gradually closer. It is a boat. But they don't know who is on board. One of the Syrians speaks up.

    "My wife speaks English," he says. "Let her call out to them."

    And so she does.

  • ALIYA HAWAJI, Syrian Refugee:

    Hey, we need help here. Hello? We need some help here.

  • GERAINT VINCENT:

    From behind the light, a voice shouts back.

  • ALIYA HAWAJI:

    All right.

  • GERAINT VINCENT:

    It is the Greek coast guard, telling them to wait on board until they come along side to pick them up.

  • ALIYA HAWAJI:

    All right. We will. Thank you so much.

  • GERAINT VINCENT:

    The woman's voice belonged to Aliya Hawaji. Three weeks since she and her partner Mohammed were stranded at sea, I met up with them, and Aliya told me about their voyage.

  • ALIYA HAWAJI:

    We took a boat, a small boat from Turkey to Greece. After, like, one hour-and-a-half of our journey in the sea, the motor of the boat got broken. And so we stopped in the middle of the sea for like an hour-and-a-half — I mean, after one hour-and-a-half.

    And then, like for around half-an-hour, we were just in the darkness, in the sea. The waves was moving us, you know, in all directions. It was really a scary moment, because you don't know. Like, I mean, we didn't know. Also, like before, we heard there are also some mafias crossing the sea and maybe stopping people, stealing their stuff, maybe destroying the boats. So we didn't know what was waiting for us.

  • MAN:

    How many?

  • ALIYA HAWAJI:

    We are 24 people.

  • MAN:

    OK.

  • ALIYA HAWAJI:

    Yes, exactly.

  • GERAINT VINCENT:

    The coast guard took all the refugees on board their boat and, as dawn broke, they were speeding towards port in the Greek islands.

  • ALIYA HAWAJI:

    When you see these people, it's like, you know, like, as God send us angels to save our lives. So, we were so happy, of course, yes.

    I can't explain, or I can't describe that moment. It's like, you know in that moment, you realized that you were rescued from death.

  • GERAINT VINCENT:

    At the end of their boat journey, Aliya and Mohammed still have a long way to go to seek and find asylum, but they have seen another sunrise and made it safely across the sea.

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