The Refugee Crisis: Through the Eyes of One Family
I accompanied one refugee family as they traveled from Hungary to Germany. I met them in a train station in Budapest as they were waiting to start the next leg of their trip. Their end goal was to reach Germany and reunite with their 19 year-old son who fled Syria two months earlier. They had already been traveling for a grueling 20 days, seeking safety from the violence in their hometown in Syria.
My goal was to capture their journey through the eyes of the 2 parents and their 3 children: Father - Farid 43, Mother - Fatima 35, Mahdi 14, Karam 10 and Amira 7. They were traveling with a group of neighbours from their village, including Hassam, 10. After 20 days of managing to stick together, the group was split up as Hassam's brother and a family of five were held back on the road to Budapest.
Crossing the Syrian Desert
Running to the Turkish Border
Shipwrecked in Greece
The family takes a boat from Turkey to Greece. They noticed a hole in the boat before it left, but nobody mentioned it because they wanted to keep going. The boat was already off course when it began to sink. Everyone had to swim to a rocky part of an island’s coastline, far from where they were supposed to land. The mothers were terrified that their children would drown, but thankfully everyone made it to the shore safely.
Traveling through Hungary
When I meet the family, they are concerned as Hassam’s uncle and another family were held back by Hungarian authorities and the group has been separated. We get on a train and travel from Budapest to Vienna, transferring twice. It takes a long time for us to reach the next transfer, and then in the confusion of switching trains, the backpack full of the families’ identity papers is lost. The parents are really distraught; their son’s original diploma and a German translation of it are now gone.
A Hungarian woman kindly shares her seat with Amira. We are on a regional train with no bathrooms, but one of the kids really needs to use the toilet. With a blanket for some privacy, a refugee mother helps her child use a sanitary napkin as a temporary solution – the child is old enough to feel embarrassed, but there was no other option.
After already traveling for more than 20 days, the children are exhausted. The crowded trains and hours of waiting are mind numbing. But it is nothing compared to the treacherous route by which the family already escaped.
Waiting in Austria and Germany
We stay two nights in Vienna, hoping that the rest of the group will catch up to us. The husband’s nephew already lives in Vienna, so the family has a safe place to rest, with proper beds and a shower. On the evening of the third day, we go by train to Munich, transferring in Salzburg. The train cars are full of refugees. We arrive in Munich late in the night and eat canned tuna with flatbread at 4 AM.
Arriving in Hamburg, Germany
After staying two nights in Munich, the group boards a fast train that takes them directly to Hamburg. In Hamburg, we wait on the platform for a different train to arrive – carrying the family members who had been separated. At last the entire group is reunited. We head to the Harburg Rathaus for everyone to register and then take a bus to the camps, where they wait to apply for asylum.
We wait two full days in Vienna.
Melinda, a volunteer in Vienna, housed nine people from our group for two nights and coordinated with a translator to ensure that the group made it on the train to Munich. This was the first time in over twenty days that the Syrians had access to bathe themselves, other than a crowded shower in Hungary which cost 16 euro to use. Fatima says that this is the first time she feels safe.
Still no time to rest, the group must go to officially register in Germany. The boys haul the suitcases behind them as we head to the Rathaus in Harburg.
Crowds wait to register. Amira starts crying, grumpy and inconsolable. It’s the first time I’ve heard her cry all week. I ask her mother Fatima what is wrong - she is hungry. I share my fresh figs and an apple with Amira. She calms down immediately.
Outside the gate of their latest lodging in Hamburg, the mothers and children pose for me, hiding their faces in order to protect family members still in Syria. The Syrian government employs people to search facebook and online media for any citizens who say anything the government doesn’t like - then they arrest and harm them.
Save the Children’s experienced relief workers are helping children and families in Syria, at refugee camps and along their treacherous journeys. Thanks to a tremendous outpouring support from generous people like you, they are able to distribute nutritious food, clean water, warm blankets and safe temporary shelter. Save the Children’s caring professionals are also reuniting lost children with their families. They’re also protecting girls and boys from abuse and exploitation and helping them cope with the terrible tragedies they've faced in their young lives.
To learn more about how you can help, visit: SavetheChildren.org/RefugeeChildrenCrisis
To donate to our Child Refugee Crisis Fund, visit: