UNEXPECTED COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITIES

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The smuggler asked if I wanted a job. Said all I’d have to do is live in Europe and ferry passports to Istanbul once a month and he’d give me four-thousand euros every time. He said it would be easy, that I wouldn’t get caught because he’d paid people off at the airport, that if I did, he’d give me a bulletproof cover story and my very own false identity. “We have a lot of passports there that we want here in Turkey, but no one is free to transport them,” he told me.

We sat at a rickety table under the LED glow of a café in Istanbul, drinking tea with five Syrian refugees who’d fled the war and hoped to soon be bound for Europe—anywhere in Europe, really, but most had their hopes on Germany or Sweden, where life is a little easier for those seeking amnesty than in other EU countries. The smuggler was their get-away plan, their escape from a country they once called home but has become a nightmare since the revolution began in 2011. They sat around sipping tea and smoking cigarettes and looking tense. They were each about to shell out 10,000 euros. They’d drained their savings accounts, borrowed money from whoever was still alive and had any left back in Syria. They’d sold all of their belongings—whatever wasn’t already bombed and broken, anyways. They’d traversed ISIS territory and were beaten by the jondurma (Turkish border patrol) to get here. For what? To cross more borders, either by land, air, or sea. To hopefully not die in the process, although there was no such guarantee. They gave everything they had for a new passport, a new name, and maybe—and this was the goal—a new life. It didn’t have to be a good one, just better than the one they now lived. One of the refugees said, “Anything is better than the hell that is Syria.”

The smuggler brought it back: “Look. Maybe you can help these guys. Meet them in Europe. Bring passports back.” He said, “You’ll earn good money, and you will not be arrested.”