This week, a Syrian refugee, now in Sweden, spoke to NewsHour special correspondent Malcolm Brabant about his journey across the Mediterranean sea and leaving his family behind. Brabant, who is covering the surge of migrants into Northern Europe, joins Alison Stewart via Skype from Copenhagen with the latest on how different countries are reacting to the migrant crisis.
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ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:
NewsHour special correspondent Malcolm Brabant is covering the surge of migrants into Northern Europe and how neighboring countries are treating the crisis differently.
This week, a Syrian refugee, now in Sweden, told him about his journey across the Mediterranean Sea, leaving his family behind.
KHALED AL-HABASH, SYRIAN REFUGEE:
How can I bring my children to here? I can't make — put him in this boat, dangerous boat. I can't do that. For, me maybe it's OK. But for my children, it's impossible.
Malcolm Brabant joins me now via Skype from Copenhagen, Denmark.
And, Malcolm, in times of danger, the conventional wisdom is to get the children out, get them to a safer place, but from your reporting, the opposite seems true in this situation. Why is that?
MALCOLM BRABANT, NEWSHOUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT:
Well, I think that parents are genuinely terrified of the dangers in the Mediterranean. As Mr. al-Habash was saying, it's absolutely a complete lottery. It's Russian roulette.
You don't know what sort of vessel you're getting into. There have been horrendous stories of traffickers beating people down into the holds of boats, and it just takes a small shift in the balance of a boat with people rushing to one side or the other for it to tip over, because they're all so heavily overcrowded.
And so, there are many parents taking the decision that it's just not worth risking their children's lives, and they're leaving them behind, and they're coming to country where's they hope there will be a good family reunification policy, as Sweden has. But Mr. al-Habash, he's waiting for 10 months.
The war in Syria has been going on for years, but what's been the catalyst for all these people leaving now?
Well, I think there are two things, as far as we can see, really. Right now, it's the end of the summer, and the Mediterranean suddenly changes from being a fairly benevolent sea as it has been over the past three months into something that is very perilous indeed.
There's a wind called "Meltemi" that blows in September that creates winds of force 8 to 10, and it's extremely dangerous. Even just for the three miles that it takes you to get across from the Turkish coast to an island like Lesbos, for example, the waves can be incredibly high, so bad, that Greek ferries, for example, won't sail in this kind of weather.
So, there is a rush to get across before the weather really changes. But, also, people I have been speaking to on Lesbos, which is one of the main island that people come to in Greece, they're saying, what we're hearing from the Syrians is that the situation inside Damascus, the Syrian capital, is becoming very grave, indeed, and there is an imperative to get out.
So, maybe there is something happening on the various war fronts there that is driving people out.
But, certainly, I — the — all of the refugees that you talk to on the various stages of the route, they're all in touch with each other. They know which places are — you know, the ways to go.
They're getting messages backwards and forwards, and, you know, they must be sort of able to read the ruins to see that Europe is wavering at the moment. Countries don't want to be on the wrong side of history because this is a very emotional time for people, especially after the publication of that terrible picture of the little boy who drowned in Bodrum.
From your reporting, you've talked to folks who were businessmen, and from other stories that I've read, there seems to be a middle-class and upper-middle-class movement here of people finally deciding to leave.
One, why are they finally deciding to leave? Why did they stay in place? And, two, what does this mean for people who don't have money to get out?
The one thing that's really quite noticeable, actually, on the road, the people who do seem to have money are Syrians. They all talk about having a fairly prosperous lifestyle.
But if you go on to social media and look at people — from Human Rights Watch, for example, they've been posting pictures saying, if you wonder why it is that people are leaving now, have a look at this photograph, and what they're doing is they're posting pictures of places like Kobani, which is the place on the Turkish-Syrian border where there was a massive battle between ISIS and the Kurds, and the place is completely flattened.
They're also posting pictures of Homs, which is Syria's city, and the place is just absolutely devastated. I mean, it looks as though there's nothing left standing. And so, how people can stay there is beyond belief.
Some of the cooler heads in Europe would say, well, hang on a minute. Those people coming from Syria, you know, they're not coming directly from the war.
They have — once they've got out of the country, they've been in safer places like Turkey, like in Jordan, so they're not exactly running away from war. They want to get away from that particular area.
But then you talk to people in the refugee agencies and others who have been to that area and you say, you just cannot stay in these terrible conditions in the refugee camps on the front line state because temperatures are just absolutely appalling.
The conditions are not great, and that's why there's this big shift towards Europe.
Malcolm Brabant, thank you so much for sharing your reporting.