Survivors tell of Syrian refugees’ desperate efforts to reach Europe

The Daily Beast reports: “It was pitch black. We were groping our way through the forest, hoping to hear water soon. I’d seen the maps and spoken to others who had done the journey before—I knew that once we reached the river, we would nearly be in Greece.”

This was no orienteering exercise. It was a long-awaited attempt to enter Europe.

In 2014, 23-year-old Yousef made the perilous overland journey from Turkey to Germany, fleeing Syria, where he had been imprisoned for organizing peaceful protests. Many people make this journey with the help of paid smugglers, but Yousef had spent the months beforehand poring over maps of Europe, filling his camera phone with screenshot aerial views of the terrain and learning village names by heart.

“I had no money. I couldn’t afford the smugglers’ fees, so I had to rely on myself for a lot of the journey,” he told The Daily Beast at his new home in central Germany. “I spoke to everyone I could to hear how they had done it, and studied really hard.”

At the Greek border, the waters of the Evros River that separates Greece from Turkey were flowing fast. “I’m a fairly good swimmer, but I still believed I’d be washed away. We waited until sunrise so we could see more clearly, and then I jumped in with a rope tied around me. I thought, ‘That’s it, Yousef, you’re going to drown here.’ But somehow I made it to the opposite bank and tied the rope to a tree so others could cross more easily.”

After less than half an hour, however, Yousef and his three other companions were caught by Greek police. Forced into a car, they were instantly returned to Turkey.

Today, over 3.8 million Syrians have fled the brutality of the Syrian war zone. Many have sought sanctuary in neighboring countries, but countless others are desperately attempting to reach European soil. With European Union states granting formal entry to only a handful of refugees (at 30,000, Germany has been by far the most “generous”) many have resorted to seeking asylum after illegal entry. Currently, the bulk of those attempting to reach Europe illegally are Syrians. [Continue reading…]

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