Syrian Migrant Recounts Rescue by Greek Coast Guard: 'God Sent Us Angels'
A small boat — crammed with two dozen migrants — sputtered in the Mediterranean Sea as the motor cut out. It sat helplessly for an hour-and-a-half until, amid nightfall, a voice called out for help when another ship came close.
That voice belonged to Syrian journalist Aliaa Hwijah, who with her partner, Mohammad, was journeying on the boat from Turkey in hopes of seeking asylum in Europe. Greek sailors found the idled vessel.
"Hey, we need help here! Hello! We need some help here!" Hwijah said in English in a video of the rescue obtained by NBC News' British partner, ITV News.
The Greek Coast Guard told the stranded migrants to stay on board. Help was on its way. "Thank you so much!" Hwijah yelled to the mariners.
Three weeks after her harrowing ordeal, Hwijah told ITV Tuesday that she and Mohammad paid $800 each to smugglers who could get them out of Turkey. And they knew the risks of crossing into Europe were great: Some 1,800 migrants from Africa and the Middle East have been killed this year trying to find passage to the continent.
So far this year, more than 80,000 migrants have landed in Europe, with Greece and Italy receiving a large chunk of the asylum seekers, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Hwijah said there were fears among the migrants she journeyed with that their boat could capsize in the water, or that pirates would find them and steal their belongings.
But the moment the Greek Coast Guard found them was as if a weight lifted from their shoulders. Hwijah was a major asset because she was the only person on board who spoke English.
Whether she and Mohammad will get to stay in Greece remains to be seen. The European Union is looking to resettle asylum seekers to other countries, including Germany and France, where the burden has not been as great as it is in Greece and Italy.
"God sent us angels to save our lives," Hwijah said of the Greek sailors who saved her boat. "I can't explain or describe that moment. You know in that moment, you realize you were rescued from death."
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