StoryCast ’21: Migrant rescue – One man’s race against time to save his family
Written by Hitmix News on 7 June 2021
In 2016, with nowhere left to turn, a Syrian refugee in Berlin named Bassel Shekhany sent a desperate message to Sky News correspondent Mark Stone in Brussels. Mr Shekhany’s family were in the middle of a night-time migrant crossing of the Aegean Sea and facing great peril. Could he help?
Bassel Shekhany has shared his story in full for the first time in Migrant Rescue, the fourth episode of StoryCast ’21 – a Sky News podcast series telling 21 extraordinary personal stories from some of the biggest news events of the century.
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When a Facebook message pinged on his phone just before 11.30pm, Sky correspondent Mark Stone had a feeling about who it might be from.
It was a message he had been worried he might receive.
“Hello Mark – my family 3 hours lost in the sea.”
Mark had first met Bassel Shekhany in Budapest, Hungary, months before, but the 26-year-old was now living in Germany.
Image: Bassel Shekhany and his wife Zanzon before they fled Syria
Bassel, originally from Syria, was one of more than a million people who had entered Europe during the migrant crisis in 2015.
He was halfway though his masters in medial physics at Syria’s Atomic Energy Commission when his family collectively decided the war was so bad that he would escape to Europe and, in time, pave the way for them to join him.
It was now January 2016, and Bassel’s wife Zanzon and seven other family members were making that very journey.
“Here was the last position before 1 hour – 37°34’06.2″N 27°01’39.0″E,” Bassel wrote.
Mark quickly copied and pasted the coordinates into Google Maps on his phone. The last known location of Bassel’s family was a spot in the Aegean Sea south of the Greek island of Samos.
At least 3,700 migrants had died trying to cross the Aegean or Mediterranean sea into Europe in 2015, and often it was left to groups of volunteers to rescue survivors. Mark had met such a group, the Samos Divers Association, in December 2015.
Image: Bassel Shekhany’s family being held in what appears to be a police cell
He sent the co-ordinates in Bassel’s message to the volunteers and to a Sky News team who were filming in Samos with the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS).
The following morning, the news for Bassel was good – his family had all been rescued. But they had been rescued by the Turkish coastguard which meant they had been returned to Turkey. They had not made it to Europe.
Astonishingly, three days later, and despite their near-death experiences, the family prepared to try again.
Over a period of a few hours, Mark received a string of increasingly desperate messages from Bassel – who feared he might never see his wife or family again.
The dramatic rescue effort is retold in Migrant Rescue.
Image: Mr Shekhany passed on messages and co-ordinates from his wife to Mark Stone
Sharing her story in full for the first time in the podcast, Zanzon told Sky News: “We were about 40 persons… [but our boat] must just be for 10 people maximum.
“The wind was strong and very cold, this wind created huge waves, and the sound of these waves, you can compare it to the sounds of airstrikes.”
Bassel explains during Migrant Rescue: “My wife started to send me the location, after one hour I used my laptop to make line of location, I noticed that the direction was not going towards the Greek islands, they were going the wrong way.”
Now, Mark, Bassel and Zanzon have come together to share their story in this unmissable episode of StoryCast ’21.
You can listen to Migrant Rescue here.