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A migrant familly sleeps in a park near the main bus and train station in Belgrade, Serbia, August 26, 2015. A surge in migrants, many of them refugees from Syria, hit Hungary’s southern border on Tuesday, passing through gaps in an unfinished barrier to a Europe groping for answers to its worst refugee crisis since World War II. [Photo/Agencies]
BELGRADE – Refugees from Syria who camp in parks around the bus stations here revealed to Xinhua details of their risky, exhausting 4,000 km journey to escape civil war and hopefully reach Germany where they aim to build a new life.
55-year-old Mohammad, a businessman from the South of Syria, is one among 11 people waiting for a bus to take them to the Hungarian border.
His companions are, according to him, “above middle class” — also businessmen, teachers, engineers to whom the prolonged armed combat between government and rebels became unbearable. They all had a spare 3,000 to 4,000 US dollars per person to pay for their way to safety.
“Syrian people are dying. Death is not strange to them. Whether you get killed in Syria, or you end up in the sea, or get shot by the coast guard of Turkey or Greece — we know that we are dying. But we have only one choice — do or die,” Mohammad said, adding people sold all property and things of value to headed to the European Union (EU).
“Seventy percent of our families were killed by oil drums (exploding barrels filled with TNT, oil and chunks of steel),” he added.
On their dangerous journey across the sea from Turkey to Greece in a rubber boat that started two weeks ago, they lost 12 people from their group somewhere in the Aegean Sea, but the remaining ones kept on going towards Germany and other EU countries, across Macedonia and Serbia.
“Those boats can receive 10, maximum 15 people comfortably, but they put 55, sometimes 60, depending on if there are children,” Mohammad said, adding engines, life vests, as well as boats themselves are of poor quality which makes the risk even greater.
Migrants sleep on a bench in a park near the main bus and train station in Belgrade, Serbia, August 26, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]
According to reports of several Syrian refugees, the price for the boat is around 1,200 U.S. dollars per person. The captain of the boat is one of the passengers that receives training for five minutes.
On a highly unsafe 10 km journey to the Greek islands that lasts several hours, they get often stopped and returned to the shore by the Turkish police, and then have to pay another 200 U.S. dollars to illegal boat renters in order to have another try.
“Several hundred meters from the Turkish shore, the engine that pulls 50 people with only 15 horse power would stop and we would have water inside the engine. Water would come in the boats and they would be inundated. Big waves are the most frequent reason why people die,” Mohammad said.
According to him, once migrants reach Greece, as well as Macedonia and Serbia, they lack water and food.
“We are human beings we have to survive. We have money but where to buy goods in the bush or in the desert? Sometimes we had to walk for kilometers between each border. Children needed toilet and to eat. There is crime, fear, animals, snakes, scorpions. You cannot see humanitarian organizations along the road,” Mohammad continued.
During the trip, migrants rarely get the chance to stay in a hotel. Usually they sleep in the open air or in tents. They wait hours in long lines to get papers from police stations to confirm their identity and enable continue their journey.
Shops often charge them up to two times the normal price for food and water, using toilets or charging mobile phones. Migrants told Xinhua they feel they are “pushed around like animals.”
Mohammad and those like him hope to start their lives anew in Germany by starting a small business, finding a job or continuing their education.
He and his compatriots spend one or two days waiting in Belgrade, together with other refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Eritrea and other countries with raging armed conflicts. Buses lead them to the Serbian towns of Kanjiza or Subotica at the northern border, where they continue their journey across Hungary and Austria.
Migrant and refugees wait for a registration procedure in the town of Presevo, Serbia, August 26, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]
Among them are brothers 21-year-old Mohammad and 19-year-old Ahmad from the Syrian capital of Damascus who left their 65-year-old mother, relatives and university studies behind.
The brothers intend to continue their studies in Germany, where as they say “universities are much better than in Syria.” They say they have enough money to get to Germany.
“We slept on the road and didn’t have much to eat. We spent three nights in Turkey, five nights on the Greek island waiting for the paper. We spent one day in Macedonia and will spend two days in Serbia,” Ahmad said.
“We don’t know what is going on in Germany. We will see. We do not have a clear idea. Their universities are better, but it will be hard to get in,” Mohammad adds.
New refugees from Syria and other countries in the Middle East and Africa are arriving every day on Greek shores on rubber boats.
They take this same risky and exhausting journey, hoping to continue their lives in a safe place, away from bullets and explosives. Many say they are determined to go back to their homeland and start fresh after the civil war is over.