More Refugees Arrive To Mersin

Sunday night I receive a phone call from Fiona. 4 boats carrying Australian evacuees from Lebanon, along with Canadian and US ships were due to arrive overnight. Although still tired from Friday night, I left my flat and walked down to the port.

One of the buses hired by the Canadians waiting in front of the port entrance. The Canadian buses were newer and of higher quality than the Australian buses.

This night the terminal was better organised, with more police and a tape restricting media access, allowing the refugees more direct movement to the buses. When I arrived the night’s first boatload of Australian evacuees were being processed.

Stuart, Fiona and Serpil were again hard at work although James had returned to London on Saturday. Also in attendance was a Reuters journalist from Pennsylvania.

Australian tax dollars well spent

An evacuee being interviewed. Note: Elif in orange

Whilst waiting for the second Australian boat Serpil explained to me why Turkish TV news and current affairs programmes often repeat the same footage over and over again. Turkish video operators do not take any background footage and only shoot the dramatic scenes. In other words, they don’t tell a story.

The Turkish Red Crescent gave out red and white carnations to the arriving refugees.

The second Australian boat, a ferry from Kocaeli (Izmit) arrived shortly before the first Canadian vessel. To minimise confusion the Canadian passengers remained on their ferry until all Australians were in the terminal.

Australian refugees exiting the ship

More passengers departing the ferry

The ferry terminal exit. Note the posters promoting places in Mersin Province on the windows

Evacuees waiting for a bus with an ambulance in the background. Note the small backpack worn by the Australian official. The backpack holds water that the wearer accesses by sucking a tube.

After the second Australian boatload had departed on the buses I left with Stuart and Fiona.

During the night a total of more than 800 Australians along with hundreds of Canadians and 1,000 or so Americans arrived. More people arrived Sunday night/Monday morning than all previous nights combined.

The Lebanon Refugee Arrival

Shortly before 3 am Friday the first Australian refugee boat arrived from Lebanon to Mersin. Port employees, orange-jacketed Australian officials, wheelchair pushers and first aid workers all scurried to meet the hired ferry.

Waiting for the passengers to exit

Ambassador Jean Dunn personally met all of the evacuees as they left the boat and the Turkish Red Crescent gave them carnations. The sickest, oldest and less abled passengers were placed in wheelchairs and pushed into the terminal building for arrival processing.

Evacuees departing boat

Once the last of the 340 refugees left the boat I followed the media pack back downstairs to the area in from of the terminal entrance. Gradually, they exited the building and went onto the waiting buses to be taken to the Taksim International Hotel.

Lady in wheelchair exiting ferry terminal

The Lebanon evacuees had not only escaped a warzone but also spent 9 hours on a bumpy ferry ride on a boat without functioning airconditioning! They were tired and exhausted but also happy to have made it onto safe land. As they exited, I offered them the local sweet cezerye. Many asked if it was Turkish delight. One woman headscarfed woman gave an impromptu interview. She had just learnt her sister and Auntie escaped the southern Lebanon and was very joyful despite not sleeping for 9 days!

The Turkish media pack

The time between leaving the ferry terminal and entering the buses was extremely important for the journalists. They had to find a suitable interviewee with an catchy story to tell and chat with them long enough to obtain good quotes/soundbites. However, as soon as James, Fiona or Serpil had found an interviewee, the Turkish media pack surrounded the interview and reduced its quality.

After the final boat person entered the buses, Stuart, Fiona, James and I jumped in Stuart’s rental car and headed off to the Taksim. From living in London, Stuart’s sense of direction and landmark memorisation was excellent.

Ataturk picture and Australian flag behind table of food and water for the Lebanon evacuees, Taksim International Hotel foyer

The refugee check-in gave Stuart, Fiona and James more time to conduct interviews and take photos. The Australian government officials were very generous to allow the journalists to work.

Once all interviews were conducted, we left to drop James and Fiona back off at the Hilton. Stuart and I then headed onto my work office as Stuart needed to send photos to the News Limited tabloids and there was no internet access at the Hilton. Most of Stuart’s photos he chose to send were close-ups of refugees.

After 7 am, I finally arrived home for a short sleep. My sleep was very short as I was due to return to work at 9!

The first Australian Refugee Boat To Mersin

After work Friday I walked to the Mersin city centre and up north to the Taksim International Hotel. When asked if the Australian refugees were going to be housed in the Taksim a security guard said, no, they were to be housed in the other hotels.

The Taksim International Hotel at night

At 10:30 pm I went to bed and set the alarm for 2 am. The first boat of Australian refugees were to arrive from Lebanon at 2:30 am on the Su Express, the same boat used for the Mersin-Latakia ferry service.

Mersin-Latakia ferry advert

At the ferry terminal I walked upstairs to the area overlooking the ferry dock. There, various media gathered, including James, Fiona and Stuart from lunch along with ABC TV Foreign Correspondent Representative in Turkey, Serpil Karacan Sellars and various other Turkish media.

James wasn’t feeling well at all and a had a case of the dreaded food poisoning (not from lunch!)

Then, the Jean Dunn, the Australian Ambassador to Turkey, arrived to give a briefing. 340 Australian refugees were to arrive on the Su Express coming from Lebanon via a break and refuelling in Magosa, Northern Cyprus.

Clockwise from the front: James (in foreground), Elif (the Australian Embassy Media Liaison), Stuart, Fiona, Jean and Serpil.

As a sidenote: I did not realise until yesterday (24th) that Elif was the wife a regular commenter here and an allround good guy Oz Kanka!

In the next blog installment: the refugees arrive.

Fish on Friday

On Friday James phones and asks if I can take him, Fiona Hudson, another Australian journalist based in London, and Stuart Clarke, an English freelance photographer. Both Fiona and Stuart came to Mersin to cover the Australian evacuation from Lebanon story for News Limited.

I picked them up from the Hilton Hotel and, as they wanted to eat fish, drove them to a restaurant in Mezitli.

From left to right: James, myself, Stuart and Fiona

All of us enjoyed the lovely fish and salad meal. The journalists were craving for some light food after too many red meat meals. The many different topics discussed during the meal included Mersin, Istanbul, the Middle East, the conservativeness/liberalness of Mersin and Turkey, relationships with Turkish ladies, the Turkish presidential system, Mersin’s population make-up, what I was doing here and what I missed about Australia.

A few points I found interesting:
* Fiona did not know about Wikipedia.
* The journos wanted to know why I blogged and when I had started. I wonder how the blogging and MSM (mainstream media) relationship will develop in the future.

James And The Giant Story

For the first half of last week I felt sick, run-down and energyless. The month of poor-quality sleep, a reflection of the hot weather, had got to me.

On Wednesday afternoon I felt well-enough to check my emails. Thanks to someone else’s unsecure wireless internet I now have internet access at home 🙂 One of my emails was from James Button, an Australian newspaper journalist based in London and working for Fairfax.

James had discovered my blog after searching for “Australian Mersin” as he was about to come to Mersin to report on the Australian refugees fleeing from Lebanon to Mersin by boat. I did not know about this before.

After work Thursday I walk to the ferry terminal at Mersin Port. Next to the yacht harbour were parked 4 big fat American SUVs (sports utility vehicles), including 2 diplomatic-plated cars. This was the only indication I noticed that something out of the ordinary was happening in Mersin until I reached the port.

At the port entrance, many buses were lined up.

Buses outside the port entrance

Outside the ferry terminal were 6 or 7 ambulances, 3 television vans and various security, ports and media people.

Ambulance workers

People began exiting the terminal building and I asked one of the ambulance employees who they were. He said they were Canadians and Australians.

Ferry passengers exiting the terminal building

Later, one passenger was having trouble understanding a Turkish official so I help translate. This Brit, based in Jordan, wanted a longer visa than the 45 day free visa given at the ferry terminal as standard. It turns out he was on the regularly-scheduled Lattakia-Mersin ferry and had not heard of the evacuation from Lebanon so obviously the ambulance worker did not know what he was talking about!

The ‘Su’, the Mersin-Latakia ferry boat

Stay tuned for the next update…

Turkey Is Quitting Smoking :-)

Amazing as it seems, but Turkey’s non-smoking revolution has begun. Months ago an Istanbul municipality introduced a law requiring restaurants and cafes to set aside a minimum area for non-smokers.

I thought Turkey would take many years to change its smoking habits but events are happening very quickly. Here are a few local examples I’ve observed:

* Istanbul Pastanesi (a cake shop near work) has a sign in Turkish that translates something like: “Smoking is allowed every second day, today is the other day.” This sign is on the wall everyday.

* Visitors to work are now far more likely to either smoke outside or ask if it okay to light-up inside instead of assuming it is okay

* The controller on the train from Mersin to Adana warned a man about smoking in the gangway, a practise previously ignored

* More places, including cinemas and cafes, now have non-smoking areas.

* The other weekend I saw my first quit-smoking business in Mersin:

The sign reads: “Cigarette Quitting Centre, Easy & Guaranteed

One of my main dislikes of Turkey is the amount of cigarette smoke I have to tolerate. I will be very happy when I see the day smokers become the minority and respect non-smoker’s rights.