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One of the saddest things I have witnessed is people facing their own mortality because they have no home.

In August 2015, at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, I was in the city of Izmir, on Turkey’s west coast.

It was after midnight and along the beachfront people were milling around, waiting for daybreak.

Most had no possessions, apart from the clothes they wore, and no place to stay. Mothers sat on the ground, cradling their sleeping babies.

Many people were gazing out at the Aegean, hauntingly beautiful at night with twinkling lights in the distance across the bay.

The sea was their passage to a new life but also a source of great fear. It could swallow them like it had done with so many who had tried to make the journey they now faced. The next day, many of them would try to travel across the sea to the Greek islands, from where they hoped to make their way to other parts of Europe. The voyage was not guaranteed. Smugglers would arrive with dinghies and negotiate the fare, sometimes up to $1,000 (R13,800). Before fleeing from Syria, money had to be collected, mostly from relatives abroad. Each boat carried about 40 people and had to traverse turbulent waters, avoiding the Turkish authorities patrolling the coastline. Many boats capsized. Some people were rescued, others perished. Some of those on the beach that night had attempted the voyage before. They had experienced the anguish of falling into the icy waters and nearly drowning, and were still willing to try again. What would prompt them to put themselves through this? The answers I got m...

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