NARRATOR: In 2015, over one million people smuggled themselves into Europe.
BOY: [subtitles] Look, we are eating burnt corn. Hunger is eating our stomach.
NARRATOR: For a year, we followed some of their extraordinary journeys across 26 countries.
WOMAN ON DINGHY: [subtitles] Guys, please stop moving, for God’s sake.
NARRATOR: We filmed them as they left their homes and families behind.
WOMAN: [subtitles] Put this into your socks.
NARRATOR: Across continents, all the way to their final destinations.
WOMAN: [subtitles] [hugging child] My life, my life!
NARRATOR: And they used camera phones to record the places no one else could go.
This is the story of those journeys, told by the people who risked everything for the dream of a better life.
AHMAD: I survived ISIS. I survived beheadings. I survived Assad. I survived shellings. I survived the sea. I survived everything! I was almost killed for a stupid idea called the U.K.
[Over 800,000 refugees and migrants passed through Turkey on their way to Europe in 2015.]
BOY STREET SELLER: [subtitles] Cigarettes, cigarettes—
ISRA’A, Age 11, Syrian: [subtitles] Here are all the coffee shops. Over here are lots of people selling rubber rings. And every day, the authorities confiscate their products. We will need to buy these for my disabled sister when we leave, to float.
[Isra’a’s home in Aleppo was bombed. Her family has been here three months.]
ISRA’A: [subtitles] This is my dad— and a guy selling chargers for traveling. And this bag is waterproof, for your phone. If, God forbid, the dinghy sinks, the phone will be safe.
TAREK, Isra’a’s Father: [subtitles] We had a good life in Syria. I had a restaurant selling falafel and shawarma until the Syrian crisis started.
[subtitles] A country that’s thousands of years old was destroyed in a moment— missiles, barrel bombs, body parts on the ground, destruction everywhere. I wanted to save my family. We arrived in Turkey. We didn’t have money left. So I decided to sell cigarettes. We said, “Let’s save enough money to go to Germany.” But it’s a bit risky, illegal.
[subtitles] Police operation!
[At the time, refugees in Turkey couldn’t get work permits.]
BOY: [subtitles] The other day, the police caught her and slapped her. And she was shouting to us, “Run, run.”
INTERVIEWER: [subtitles] Are you also traveling?
BOY: [subtitles] Me? To Germany? I don’t know. My parents might not go.
HASSAN, English Teacher, Syrian: In Izmir, finding a smuggler wasn’t hard. They’re everywhere. The very first night we got there, I was walking in Basmane Square, and they approach you being, like,“So you want to go to Greece?” As if you’re— this is human trafficking, but it’s just— it was that easy.
SMUGGLER: How many of you?
MAN: 40— so get us a dinghy.
SMUGGLER: 35 in the dinghies. What’s your name?
SMUGGLER: That’s it. We can go tomorrow at 5:00 or 6:00, from here.
HASSAN: They portray it to you as if you’re going on a 5-stars yacht into the island and you’ll be fine. “Don’t worry about it.” But they are— they lie. They are full of lies.
I was scared, to be honest. That area is full of wrong things, human traffickers, people who ended up on the side of the road selling things to carry on with their journeys. The worst part of it is to make fake lifejackets because we later found out the majority of them make the person sink instead of float.
TAREK: [subtitles] We are 16 people, me and my wife’s family. Some wanted to travel, some didn’t. I was one of the people against traveling by sea. So many die.
[subtitles] Open it for your sister.
ISRA’A: [subtitles] We travel together so we can help each other. If the dinghy overturned, my grandpa would rescue Jana. My father would rescue Shahad. And I know how to get myself rescued.
TAREK: [subtitles] I was so emotional. I kept putting off the decision to travel.
NEWSCASTER: At dawn this morning, this group came to shore—
NEWSCASTER: The islands are seeing a huge rise in migrant arrivals.
NEWSCASTER: —Eritrea, Somalia and Syrian.
NEWSCASTER: —more than 40 have died trying to—
NEWSCASTER: But these are desperate people, many trying to leave countries in conflict.
NEWSCASTER: —were found this morning—
NEWSCASTER: —at least 22 people were killed—
NEWSCASTER: He drowned trying to cross from Turkey—
NEWSCASTER: The image of [inaudible] these bodies washing up at this spot has profoundly shocked this country.
TAREK: [subtitles] When we saw on the internet the story of the child, Aylan, it stirred the emotion of every human who has a conscience. He was the kid stopping me from going by sea.
[Tarek and his wife are arguing over whether to risk the crossing.]
ISRA’A: [subtitles] They’re fighting. Something is going to happen. Come on. They’re angry!
TAREK: [subtitles] We had a family problem. And there was some anger.
TAREK: Come here.
ISRA’A: I don’t want to. I want to stay with my mother.
TAREK: Your mother is doing this.
ISRA’A: She’s not doing anything!
TAREK: It’s OK. Enough. It’s nothing to do with you. I want the best for you— to go by yacht.
ISRA’A: It’s OK. I want to go to mom.
TAREK: The yacht is safer.
ISRA’A: I know. Not now.
TAREK: [subtitles] This is the hardest test of my life. We decided to take the dinghy. But my heart doesn’t feel good about it.
HASSAN: [subtitles] [on the phone] How are you, Abu Mazen? OK, Chief, I’ve done what you told me. Boss, just make sure the dinghy isn’t small. Everyone is scared.
HASSAN: Syrians who have already done the journey posted on Facebook, and they estimated that it’ll cost around 5,000 euros. Some people are, like, “How can they afford that, the refugees? How come they have that much money,” not knowing that refugees fled Syria not because they are poor. They had money, but it’s not safe for them to live there anymore. And refugees, a lot of them, they sold their properties to do this journey. They literally sold their properties, sold their houses, their shops, their cars.
[in a swimming pool] Practicing for tonight.
ISRA’A: [subtitles] Today’s our last day.
BOY: [subtitles] How is that?
ISRA’A: [subtitles] It’s the way it is.
INTERVIEWER: [subtitles] Are you going to miss Isra’a?
BOY: [subtitles] How could I say no? We’re always together. How could I not miss her?
ISRA’A: [subtitles] We’ve known each other since Aleppo.
WOMAN: [subtitles] [with lifejacket] Ramiz, come wear this one before your brother comes.
RAMIZ: [subtitles] It’s heavy. It’s heavy.
WOMAN: [subtitles] Is it really heavy?
INTERVIEWER: [subtitles] Aren’t you scared about the dinghy?
ISRA’A: [subtitles] No, I’m not scared. It’s not scary. I swear it’s not scary.
BOY: [subtitles] Nothing is scary. In Syria, the shells were dropping on us and we got used to it. How could we be scared of some waves?
WOMAN:: [subtitles] Let us die so we can rest.
WOMAN: [subtitles] It’s enough. Are we going to die on the way?
BOY: [subtitles] Why is he upset?
ISRA’A: [subtitles] Because he loves my dad.
TAREK: [subtitles] I asked your dad if you can come with me, but he said no. He’s been with me for months.
[subtitles] Come here. You deserve a reward. You will follow us later. Come on, go to Abd Alateal. If anything bad happens to us, you’ll have to tell our story. Deliver our voice to everyone.
HASSAN: Before we took our journey, we heard that there was a boat which five people died because the boat went down and five people died. And you wish you— you can do something about it. You wish you can change this, but you can’t. I was helpless back then.
We’re still waiting for the truck. It’s supposed to arrive to pick the rest of us, around 20 to 30 people, 30 people in here to the point.
I don’t know why it’s been— it hasn’t been— it’s a bit windy, a bit windy today. According to the application, wave heights are going to stay less than 60 centimeters.
You don’t actually believe that your boat is going to go down and we’re going to die. It should be fine.
It’s 2:10. We’re heading to the point.
We got there, and we were around 90 people. I was, like, “Well that’s going to be great. If they split us in half, we’ll be 45 on the boat. That’ll be great.”
The first boat is on.
They put around 35 people on one boat, and they were, like, “Go!” And what scared me the most is that they asked one of the refugees, one of the people who are going to go on the boat— they were, like, “Come, we’ll train you how to operate the engine.” And I was, like, “Oh, my God,” because this is someone who has no idea. He has never done this, and they train him in, like, three minutes. And there was around 60 people left, and there was one boat.
This is not going to go right. This is not going to be OK.
1st MAN: Don’t go too fast.
2nd MAN: Calm down.
MAN: Watch out. Don’t move.
HASSAN: Thank God the sea is flat.
WOMAN: Guys, please stop moving. For God’s sake.
MAN: Everyone, let’s read the Duaa.
MAN: God the greatest.
MAN: The one who has placed this transport at our service. We ourselves would not be capable of that. Returning to our Lord is our final destiny. God Almighty has spoken the truth.
MAN: Peace be upon the Prophet.
WOMAN: Hassan, can you see the other dinghy?
HASSAN: No, Aunt, they’re way past us.
WOMAN: So you can’t see the other dinghy?
1st MAN: Water is coming in. Water is coming in.
2nd MAN: Slowly, slowly.
WOMAN: Is it from under the boat? Or from the waves?
MAN: From the waves.
HASSAN: We are over halfway to the Greek waters. Then we can call the Greece Coast Guard.
MAN: Don’t call them yet.
HASSAN: No, I won’t call them now. I’m leaving it until the end.
MAN: You are very heavy and you are sitting on my leg.
MAN: We still haven’t reached the Greek waters.
MAN: Is water still coming in?
MAN: There is water, but it’s OK. Be patient.
WOMAN: Please call them.
MAN: It’s still too early.
MAN: Even if it fills up, it won’t sink. It’s air, it won’t sink. The dinghy might stop, but it won’t sink. Don’t be afraid.
WOMAN: Please, God, be with us!
MAN: The water is a foot deep now.
HASSAN: Oh, my God!
1st MAN: Take the water out. Take the water out.
2nd MAN: Call the emergency!
HASSAN: There was a kid who was sitting right in front of me on the boat. It’s just seeing the fear. And it’s not— I mean, for some— I mean, we’re— I mean, we’re— we’re young men, where we can have it, we can do it. But to see that— like, to see that kids are going through this and they’re crying for help and they’re pleading for you to help them or do something— he was, like, literally, it was like, “Just do something,” and he was crying. To witness that is just hard.
After half an hour, the coast guard showed up. The Turkish coast guard showed up, and they— we all got on the— on the— we were rescued, all of us. Luckily, no one died. No one drowned. And we were taken back to the coast guard station.
The treatment was good. They gave us food and water. And then after a while, we— after they took our information, they released us after, like, a couple of hours.
And we went back to Izmir, back to square one.
Nobody wants to leave their country and risk dying in the sea. But when it becomes impossible to live in your own country, people will do desperate things.
[Since 2011, over five million people have fled Syria.]
ISRA’A: [subtitles] We’ve arrived at the island. Ten thousand thanks to God! We’ve arrived Greece. My phone was drowned in water, but thank God it still works.
WOMAN: [subtitles] She is happy because of the phone.
TAREK: [subtitles] I announce my defection from Turkey and arrival in Greece! [laughter]
ISRA’A: [subtitles] When we reached the island, we were so happy. We had passed the most difficult stage. We ran to each other, hugging each other. We all cried. Even my daddy cried.
TAREK: [subtitles] Now we have hope of life. Me and the kids, we got rid of something called death.
[subtitles] What’s the name of this island?
INTERVIEWER: [subtitles] Samos.
TAREK: [subtitles] So we arrived in Samos?
GRANDFATHER: [subtitles] Everyone was crying and vomiting. She was saying, “Oh, Grandpa, I’m afraid.” I told her, “Don’t be afraid. Come, come.”
ISRA’A: [looking at shoes] Mom, is there anything dry for me?
WOMAN: It’s all wet.
ISRA’A: Let’s swim to Turkey and back. This is all Greece, isn’t it?
INTERVIEWER: Where will you sleep?
ISRA’A: In the street here.
GIRL: Can I swim?
ISRA’A: The sea is two-faced.
TAREK: That’s what they say. But it didn’t betray us.
ISRA’A: Many people have been betrayed by it.
GIRL: I love the sea.
ISRA’A: I love to swim in it, but I don’t like to drown in it.
TAREK: If it’s not very deep.
ISRA’A: [hugging stuffed toy] He makes me forget my tiredness.
TAREK: We are all tired. Dad is tired. Mom is tired. You’re tired. Our goal is to rest.
ISRA’A: Our goal is to build our life.
TAREK: A new one.
ISRA’A: Build a very new life.
[A third of Gambians live on less than $1.25 a day.]
WOMAN: See the beauties coming!
ALAIGIE, Age 21, Gambian: These are my sisters, you know.
WOMAN: Hey, you two. Come, so we can take a picture.
INTERVIEWER: The family.
ALAIGIE: Today’s going to be the last time I see my sisters, you know. I’m going to miss them.
I used to see the pictures of Europe, on a mobile phone, television. So everybody’s talking about Europe, Europe, Europe, Europe, especially Gambian people, you know. Everybody is saying that, “I want to go to Europe. I want to go to Europe.” So I also decided, you know, no matter what, I will try to go to Europe.
The day my father die, I know that it’s time for me to take on responsibility, no matter what. So my younger brothers, who is going to feed them? Nobody, except me. I must help my family.
JANKEY, Alaigie’s Mother: [subtitles] There is nothing here, and we are putting our hopes on him. He is the eldest son. He is supposed to look after his siblings.
ALAIGIE: My mom calls the smuggler, talk with him. The smuggler said, “OK, then. Let your boy come to the market.”
SMUGGLER: [subtitles] Sabha to Tripoli. From Burkina Faso into Niger, call this number, Nuha. He’ll look after you there.
ALAIGIE: These are the contacts, the agents.
SMUGGLER: Yeah, yeah. These are for the agents for the back way there.
ALAIGIE: There’s not a front way. It’s a back door, back way. A front way, you take an airplane, you find a document. The back way— no document, no nothing, only money. You find money, you go. It’s cost me around 40,000 to 60,000 dalasi.
SMUGGLER: [subtitles] The money’s good. You’re all set.
ALAIGIE: I say, “How many days?” “Some people six months, some two years.” I say “Wow.”
NEWSCASTER: —ill-equipped and overcrowded boats run by trafficking gangs—
NEWSCASTER: —thousand people are known to have drowned—
NEWSCASTER: Twenty-five bodies were recovered—
NEWSCASTER: More than a thousand people are feared dead—
NEWSCASTER: Four thousand people were rescued from the Mediterranean—
NEWSCASTER: The Mediterranean has been described as a graveyard for migrants.
NEWSCASTER: —thousand migrants in two big shipwrecks—
ALAIGIE: So my bag is here. I pack my things. Only three things are here— jeans, my identity card, my shorts. Easy. If the place is cold, I am going to wear this, this cap.
So they are my friends. Europe, I’m not going to find this kind of things there. People are gathered in the same place, chatting, drinking. No, no, no. Europe is mind your business, nobody should disturb you. They don’t need this kind of noise.
But I’m going to miss the place. I’m going to miss the place so, so much. So much. Europe is not like Africa. You cannot imagine Europe.
HASSAN: [2,160 miles to the U.K.] After three or four days from being off the grid, we finally made it, finally made it to Greece. The boat capsized. We lost all our [expletive deleted] All our bags were gone.
This is where we spent our night last night. We don’t have anything on us, experience, especially me. I mean, I only have now my shorts, my T-shirt and my— my running shoes. Everything’s lost, basically.
When we landed in Greece, expectations didn’t align with reality. In my mind, I thought it was going to be this organized structure where there are NGOs, volunteers, people helping out, but it was very chaotic.
A new boat just arrived, so what people do here that they steal lifejackets so they can sleep on them because you’re basically sleeping on the ground if you’re not sleeping on one of them.
I was kind of pampered in Damascus. Like, I had everything. I had my car. I could go back to my room. I had my own room, sleeping in my own bed. I didn’t sleep on the side of the road, ever. Never in my life I slept on the side of the road, or never in my life, actually, I went camping. I never went camping. I always wanted to, and I think I’ve done my share of camping by now. But I just didn’t— I wasn’t used to this.
And most of those people were traumatized. They have left their countries. They almost died on the way. And no one was there to help out. No one did actually care. I was shocked because I thought, like, this is Europe. I thought it was going to be different.
We had to wait to get a khariter [sp?], registration paper with our picture and details on it, and without this paper, we cannot go anywhere.
REFUGEE: [subtitles] What brought the whole of Syria to this place?
HASSAN: So after— they arrived, and they asked if someone can speak English. And I took— I volunteered so I can say the names. Luckily, our names were included. We have the khariter. Now we’re going to go and book to Athens.
ISRA’A: [subtitles] It was my first time on a big ship. There were more than a million people on it. It was so big.
HASSAN: I’ve never been on a ferry in my life, and we were, like, “Oh, this is what I would travel in the sea with.” I mean, I don’t mind going to Canada on this ferry because it’s legit. This is how people are supposed to travel, not on a 9-meter dinghy.
We showered on the ferry. We had something to eat. One of our friends was, like, “Can you sink me now?” [laughs]
ISRA’A: I don’t know where we’re going. To a bus? And then? Where to?
TAREK: To the Macedonia border.
ISRA’A: The Macedonia borders.
TAREK: And then what happens?
SADIQ, Electrician, Afghan: Do you want to record video?
SADIQ: You are recording video?
SADIQ: If you have any question, we can talk with you.
SADIQ: Because I can talk English.
INTERVIEWER: Where are you from?
SADIQ: I’m from Afghanistan. And we have passed a very difficult way, and finally we arrived in Greece.
INTERVIEWER: Where do you want to go?
SADIQ: I want to go Finland.
When I heard some news that the borders are open and many people are going to abroad, then I decided it is time to go now or never because the people who are living in Afghanistan, all of them don’t like Afghanistan. But why they stay? Because they don’t know the way how to come, or if they know the way, they don’t have the money to come. I’m sure if they have enough money, nobody will remain in Afghanistan and Afghanistan will be empty.
Here are the buses which the refugees travel to Macedonia, and I’m going to find my friend, Sadeer.
MAN: [subtitles] So you’re going to Finland?
SADIQ: [subtitles] We’ll see. We’re going to Germany first. If it’s good there and they accept Afghans, we’ll stay. But if they say it’s crowded, then we go.
I am 24 years old and I faced many problems. I’ve seen many problems in my life, and it’s enough. I want to have the remain, the rest of my life with peace, with safe life, with good— good situation. I remember when I was a child, the regime of Taliban, and everything was bad.
[Over 180,000 Afghans came to Europe in 2015]
SADIQ: Taliban was very cruel to all human beings, and especially for women. There was not right for women in the period of Taliban, no right. For example, the girls and womens were not allowed to go for job, for work, for studying. Everything was forbidden for them.
And when they go outside, then it was rule they should cover all the parts of your body, all the parts. If their hands or feet was uncovered, if a Talib see like that, Talib beat them.
When I was Afghanistan, I saw that Taliban are trying to govern again, and every day, fight is going on. That is why I decided to leave my home country and come to abroad.
[Nearly 8,000 Gambians left for Europe in 2015]
JANKEY: [subtitles] He’ll be robbed if he puts the money into his pocket. Put this into your socks. Put this into your socks.
ALAIGIE: [subtitles] That will be seen. Put it at the back of the heel.
JANKEY: [subtitles] Whatever you do, just have one intention. On land and sea, you must have the same goal. Respect people. Always be in the middle of things, don’t be on the outside.
[subtitles] Remember that God is the one. Only he can make things happen. Your primary reason for going is to provide for your parents properly. May God let you live longer than your dad, whose life was short. May God be your shepherd. May your enemies never win. In the name of the holy Prophet, with blessings from your parents, I end my prayers with blessings.
[subtitles] May you be blessed and protected.
ALAIGIE: There is no option. This is the best option I can do. So I just pray to God.
I never left Gambia for that kind of journey. I experience a lot. Agadez is the last big city, that you leave to Libya.
[Roughly 100,000 migrants crossed the Sahara Desert in 2015.]
ALAIGIE: You see many kind of people there who are trying to go to Europe. So there is a smuggler also there, you know. He will find a car for you. Only 10 people can fit in that car.
SMUGGLER: [subtitles] This is the type of wood we use. So it is like— passenger.
ALAIGIE: But the smugglers in Agadez, those people are greedy. They put 29, 29 on that car.
PASSENGER: What about the one I just gave you?
MAN: You didn’t give me any,
PASSENGER: What about the money I gave you?
ALAIGIE: You leave Agadez at 10:00 o’clock at night. That night, you will see cars like sea, people in a car shouting, “Libya, Libya, Libya, Libya, Libya, Libya,” more than a thousand people.
The desert definitely is not easy. You spend four days at the desert. If you say to people the desert is harder than the sea, they think that you are stupid. If you sink in the sea, the water in your eyes, your ears, your nose, your mouth, and you cannot breathe. But in the desert, the sun is very hot, so you suffer before you die.
But for us, our driver, the word sympathy, he’s not having that in his blood. He said that the car is too heavy. He threw away our water. It was very wicked, very wicked.
AHMAD, English Student, Syrian: Me and my wife, we agreed that I will travel to the U.K. and my family will later on join me.
AHMAD: You see, if you look at here, we got a lot of numbers. Smugglers, smugglers, smugglers. They got groups on Facebook, you know, closed groups. So they keep posting, advertising prices, dates, routes, discounts, promotion, you know?
[on the phone] [subtitles] What are you wearing? A light blue shirt? Light blue, yes. OK. I’m wearing a white and blue shirt. I’m coming to you. I’ll be in the middle of the square.
Sorry. Do you know where the Omonoia Square is? That way? Five minutes?
Sorry. Omonoia Square? Right here. Thank you so much.
Good evening, sir. You know where is Omonoia Square?
SHOPKEEPER: Five minutes.
AHMAD: Thank you so much.
OK, I mean, everybody says five minutes, and I don’t know what’s the meaning of five minutes in Greece.
SMUGGLER: [on the phone] [subtitles] Hi, brother. I’m on my way.
AHMAD: [subtitles] OK, I’m waiting for you in the middle of the square.
SMUGGLER: [subtitles] OK, I’ll call when I get there.
AHMAD: [subtitles] OK.
Well [expletive deleted] It’s better you turn it off because they will be— no, please turn it of because if they see the camera or they see me—
Smugglers are criminals. For them, I am not a human being. I am $500 or $1,000 or $2,000. I didn’t have a choice but to come and work with these people. Time is my worst enemy. Sometimes a minute can change the entire life of you or your family.
This is the picture of my little daughter and my wife. You see the building out there? There was a bomb. Two little children lost their lives there, in my town. It’s about 200 meters from my house. [expletive deleted]
[Isra’a’s family is traveling across Serbia. Their bus breaks down 10 miles from Croatia.]
ISRA’A, 362 miles to Germany: [subtitles] Walking in the rain is nice. Shush. We’re getting there now.
WOMAN: [subtitles] This is the best holiday I’ve ever had. It’s an amazing adventure. I was suffocating at home, and now I am free. [laughter] I couldn’t even leave the house for months and months. I’d go to my parents for 30 minutes, then have to go. Now I’m loose on the streets. I’m even sleeping on the street. Thank you, God! Now I have the chance to walk in the rain. I love it!
ISRA’A: [subtitles] I miss my home in Aleppo the most. When we were in Aleppo, it was full of toys. My grandparents bought us gifts. And every time my Dad came back from work, he would bring us toys. Bags and bags of toys. It’s all gone. A missile destroyed everything in our house. Our home is gone.
ISRA’A: [subtitles] Have we reached the border? Is this the border?
WOMAN: [subtitles] What is this humiliation? Are we meant to sit in the mud?
NEWSCASTER: Hundreds of men, women and children waiting in the rain near the border. Aid agencies seem completely unprepared—
NEWSCASTER: There are more coming hour after hour. Refugees and migrants have been arriving in Croatia—
NEWSCASTER: —still pouring into the European Union—
NEWSCASTER: —problem is a lack of coordination—
NEWSCASTER: —entry to the European Union—
NEWSCASTER: Whatever limits and quotas EU leaders may have in mind, this influx is continuing.
NEWSCASTER: There was no shelter, no food, no warmth for this group, which included many children.
WOMAN: [subtitles] I beg you, get us out of here. The cold is killing us. Our hearts will stop.
ISRA’A: [subtitles] It was a big tragedy when we were on the road. We found a tent and made a fire. And there were two kids who died from the cold.
TAREK: [subtitles] Put it out of your mind.
[subtitles] Here is the problem. She is seeing things that she can’t cope with. I was trying to stop it getting to her on the road, but you can’t avoid it. It’s a heavy burden. And she shares the burden, beyond what she can handle. How are you now? Better?
HASSAN, 620 Miles to the UK.: It’s 4:00 AM, entering Hungary behind the smugglers.
I’ve never traveled to Europe before. I don’t know what’s the atmosphere towards refugees. It didn’t feel like we were welcomed by all of those countries we were going through. We were certainly not welcome.
[Sadiq, 2,280 Miles to Finland]
HASSAN: It felt like every country was trying to get rid of us. Just go north, and then you’ll figure it out from there.
[Ahmad, 690 Miles to the U.K.]
HASSAN: The back door of the van broke because around 26 people were stacked in the van. And in an hour-and-a-half, it’s going to take us into Austria.
MAN: [subtitles] Watch out for the door, guys. Hold onto each other.
HASSAN: [subtitles] Could we get caught here?
MAN: [subtitles] We won’t. God helps you. Be patient.
HASSAN: Right now, our van is entering the Austrian border.
MAN: [subtitles] Sit down, everyone. Sit down, everyone.
MAN: [subtitles] Did we enter?
HASSAN: [subtitles] Yes, we are in.
It’s 9:00 o’clock. The van just dropped us. We’re in Vienna. I wanted to go to the U.K., and it took me around 14 days and I’m in Austria. So yeah, I mean, like, maximum two more weeks, and I’m— I’m going to be in the U.K. But I wasn’t. [laughs]
AHMAD: When planning my trip to the U.K., I always wanted to be as quick as possible. And the system for family reunion in the U.K. is super-quick. Once I am given the refugee status, I can get my family easily out of Syria, which might take me two-and-a-half years in Germany or France.
My place was under siege. There was no electricity. The reception towers— they were all blown up. I spend, you know, sometimes two, three weeks never hearing from them.
Sorry, but it’s really very urgent that I— I’m taking the advantage of that she’s got reception, so I’m trying to text her for first time in months.
[on the phone] Hello? Hello? Hello?
AISHA: Ahmad, can you hear me?
AHMAD: I hear you. Can you hear me?
AISHA: I hear you, Ahmad.
AHMAD: How are you?
AISHA: Your voice is OK.
AHMAD: What’s the situation in the village now?
AISHA: It’s quiet, nothing much.
AHMAD: Has Daesh [ISIS] moved away from the town?
AISHA: No, they’re still around.
AHMAD: Yes? Do they still shell the town?
AISHA: They hit around us. My situation is bad.
AISHA: Send me a text.
AHMAD: Oh! She said I need to hang up because I can’t even speak. There are a lot of people around her, you know, and she’s very afraid of speaking because now she’s in a place under the regime’s control, you know?
And because I’m stupid, I’m asking her stupid questions about how is the situation, how is ISIS, and how is— so she’s— damn it! So she told me, “Don’t speak, type it, so I can type for you so no one can hear me.” [expletive deleted] Oh, I really don’t know.
[Alaigie is waiting for a boat to Italy. The smuggler tells him to stay off the streets.]
ALAIGIE: There is no government in Libya, so they don’t care about the blacks, you know? People are holding guns like no man’s business. Gun is their food. We’re all afraid.
NEWSCASTER: The route from Libya to Italy is popular. Traffic is taking advantage of growing instability and lawlessness—
NEWSCASTER: Armed groups are battling for control of their shattered nation.
NEWSCASTER: —not democracy, there’s a gap left Ghadafy.
[Soon after arriving, Alaigie is kidnapped.]
MAN: [on the phone] Hello. We just need to make sure that we want to release Alaigie. So where Alaigie is exactly now? That’s what we want to know. In Tripoli? So where we can send the money to bring him out?
SMUGGLER: [subtitles] Ask him the name of the prison.
MAN: What’s the prison name where Alaigie is? Saladin.
INTERVIEWER: What has happened to Alaigie?
UNCLE: OK, immediately after he arrived in Tripoli, we are told by somebody on the phone that, unfortunately, Alaigie has been detained. He is under detention by unknown people. We cannot even verify their identity. Either they are government forces or militias. We don’t know.
So what we are told that now for Alaigie to be safely released, an amount of $1,000 price is tagged is on his head. One thousand dollars! As a family here, we didn’t have that amount with us, OK? So I can say that his life is at risk.
MOTHER: [subtitles] You’re all from Gambia, but I am from southern Senegal. But I entrusted my child’s safety to you. I told you my child is tall and lanky, but he is still a boy. You said, “Pay the money and there will be no problem.” A while later, I called to tell you he had arrived. Your response was, “He is his own man. Let him go to the sea and find a boat for himself.” That was your response.
SMUGGLER: [subtitles] I pray to God that will happen.
INTERVIEWER: How long could he be there for?
SMUGGLER: It depends. He could be there for years. If they don’t pay the money, he could be there for years.
UNCLE: [subtitles] The whole family was sad when we heard the news that Alaigie was captured. He could be tortured. It was difficult to get the money, but we borrowed it from different sources. Eventually, we got the right amount to secure his release.
[A week later, Alaigie finds a place on a boat to Italy. Almost 3,000 people died crossing from Libya to Italy in 2015.]
1st OFFICER: [subtitles] Everyone, please listen. You are now in Austria. Austria has organization and respect.
2nd OFFICER: Stay with your family, and everybody get on a bus one by one.
1st OFFICER: [subtitles] They have bought you these buses for free. The country is helping. The most important thing is to stay calm. The most important thing is patience. [waiting refugees cheer]
[Isra’a was separated from her grandparents at the Croatian border.]
TAREK: [subtitles] The police said that this disabled girl and her family can cross. They separated us.
SADIQ, 1,758 Miles to Finland: I feel relaxed because I’m near to Germany. Just one country remains, Austria and then to Germany, from Germany to Sweden, and from Sweden to my destination, Finland.
VOLUNTEER: [handing out blankets] [subtitles] Hand them all out. Please, only for women, children and the elderly. After a half hour, there will be buses for everyone. We’ve organized one bus for each person.
REFUGEE: [subtitles] A bus each?
VOLUNTEER: [subtitles] My Arabic is a bit broken, I know. God be with you.
SADIQ: It is so difficult for the children. We are young, and we cannot suffer this cold weather. And for children, it’s too much difficult.
TAREK: [subtitles] Austria’s welcome was very good.
ISRA’A: [subtitles] We are all going.
TAREK: [subtitles] I send my greetings and thanks to this country. I would host all the Austrian people in my house. I would even leave my house and give it to someone from Austria. The duty is on every human being to help each other in this crisis. Put religion to the side. Humanity is more important.
The “Jungle” Calais, France
MAN: Go back. Go back. Let us go back. It’s tear gas.
HASSAN: Welcome to the Jungle. I called it the graveyard of hopes or the graveyard of dreams because a lot of people, like, just lose it there. They just don’t make it.
[At any one time in 2015, around 6,000 people were living in the “Jungle.”]
HASSAN: There was one guy I met, and I was, like, “So how do I get to England?” And he started laughing. He literally started laughing. And he was, like, “I’ve been here for a year.” And that’s when I was, like, “Holy [expletive deleted]”
At first, I was, like, “It’s OK. It’s a camp. What’s the worst that can happen? There’s free food, and there are showers and there are toilets.” But there’s just too much misery in here.
The morning time, I’m thinking of how I’m going to get into the U.K., and then at night time, I’m trying to enter the U.K.
So basically, we climb up there. When I get there, I take off my clothes, put them in a plastic bag. I go down, and then I get into the water. I swim to the other side until I reach the stairs, dry myself up, put my clothes on, climb up the stairs, wait for the sniffing dogs to be gone, and then hide under the trucks. The truck takes me to the ferry, and then the ferry moves. And there you are, U.K.-bound.
For a month, I had my friends with me. But both of them made it on the same day, and I didn’t. And as happy as I was for both of them, in my heart, I was not happy. They’ve made it to the U.K. Now I’m on my own.
Before I got close to the ladder, I noticed that there was a maintenance mini-boat that had two people on it very close to the ladder. I thought, “I’m going to get caught. I’ll rest tonight and then try again tomorrow night.”
Walking for around two to three hours every single night, jumping over three fences. Police is everywhere. They’re circling the area.
And then getting caught and being sent back to the Jungle. That was every single night while I was in Calais. Three of those times, I was on the train, but I would get caught a minute or two before the train starts moving. I tried the lorries. But that’s even harder than the train because it’s very dangerous.
The truck just started moving, just letting you know, 10 minutes ago. And it’s very, very, very cold. We’re almost freezing here. We’ve been in the lorry for almost nine hours now, full of batteries. Its only three of us. However, we think the truck is going in the wrong direction. It’s not going towards Calais, it’s going towards Paris Let’s just hope that we’re wrong.
I shouldn’t have risked my life that much, to be honest. But I was desperate and I had to try everything. I spent 60 days in Calais.
You never know. My mom tells me, “Hassan, maybe you can— you’ll cross to the U.K. or maybe you’ll not. You won’t be successful there. Maybe you’ll find success somewhere else, or don’t.” I don’t know.
AHMAD: I had a friend who told me there’s another possible route to the U.K. We’re heading to Denmark.
So I said, “All right. I mean, if it’s not going to be awful journey.” And he said, “It’s very easy. You don’t have to climb. You don’t have to walk. You don’t have to worry. There’s no police. There’s nothing. You just sit down, and you end up in the U.K.” I said, “That easy.” He said, “Yeah, that easy.”
I’m inside the boat. I am under one of the lorries. We’re just waiting so we can sneak.
These are smugglers. They’ve got a set of tools with them. They use their tools. They open the back of the lorry, OK? They put us inside it and they re-lock it again. The smuggler said, “Don’t move. If you ever move, they’ll discover you, then police will come.” Me and my friends— we spent three full days in the back of that lorry motionless. And that lorry never moved.
We gave up. We said, “OK, if at 6:00 PM, if the lorry does not move, we’re going to call the police” because we cannot stay here anymore.” At 10:00, the lorry started moving. And we knew that we are on the ferry somewhere in the sea.
Then suddenly, the ferry stopped. I closed my eyes, and I started crying and I started thinking of my family you know, my wife and— I said, “I’ve done all this entire journey for my family. Please, I just want to end up in the U.K.”
And we turned on our mobiles. And the first message I got through my mobile was, “Welcome to the U.K.” I’ve made it. After almost two months leaving Syria, now I am in the U.K.. Now my dream is coming true. So glad, so happy I made it.
We got out of the lorry. A car stopped, and it turned out that they are the police. They came with this very strange accent. I didn’t understand what they— “Hello, fella. How you doing?” It’s like, you know— I didn’t understand. “Is this England?” “Yes, this is England, fella.” You know, it was a very different accent!
AHMAD: My plan was to get to the U.K., and I got here. The next step is to get asylum so I can get my family here safely. And the sooner I get the family reunion, the sooner will my family be leaving Syria.
[More than 2000 Syrians were granted asylum in the U.K. in 2015.]
SADIQ, 1,012 Miles to Finland: We cannot see. I think it’s gloomy, yes.
SADIQ: Gloomy, yes.
INTERVIEWER: It’s called fog.
SADIQ: Aha. Yeah, it’s gloomy. But I hope that in Finland, should be better than this, not like this. I like the normal weather. I can see there the refugees.
MAN: Where do you want to go?
MAN: OK, so you have to go to Stockholm. There’s a bus that goes at 10:00.
SADIQ: Do we buy the tickets ourselves?
MAN: No, I will give it to you.
SADIQ: In Afghanistan, Sweden is a very popular and famous country. And I was feeling very good that I’m in Sweden, in Europe. This is me Sadiq, and I’m Sweden. It was very interesting for me. It was— I had very good feeling.
WOMAN: [subtitles] You’ll sleep and eat here tonight.
AID WORKER: Welcome.
SADIQ: OK, thank you.
AID WORKER: So you’re going to Finland?
AID WORKER: OK. It’s going to be cold.
AID WORKER: You want?
SADIQ: Yes. Thank you, sir.
AID WORKER: It’s a cap, and it’s— we have clothes in the basement—
AID WORKER: —if you need.
2nd AID WORKER: Hi.
2nd AID WORKER: Hi. Welcome. Do you need anything? Over there, you’re going to have some T-shirts. Then you have some jackets, all right?
SADIQ: Oh, thank you. [subtitles] They said that Finland is really cold.
2nd AID WORKER: Let me check. Maybe it’s for gals. Does this look feminine?
FRIEND: It’s very warm.
SADIQ: Now I go to Finland. [subtitles] How does it look?
FRIEND: Is it a bit feminine?
SADIQ: I many times told for my friends, Look how European people are good and kind. We are not working here. They give us everything what we want.
This is a kind of chips. [subtitles] I bet it doesn’t taste that great.
He said, “If there is not tasty, just I’m trying eat fast to finish and have the yogurt.” [laughter]
Many thing is new for me, the culture, the people. It is completely difference from Afghanistan.
No. Really not tasty.
In here is freedom, freedom of everything. They don’t tell us you must be Christian. And they are saying for us, “You’re free. If you want to pray, if you want to go mosque or what you want to do, you are free.”
[to friend with camera phone] [subtitles] Make sure you take an epic picture.
Here I realize what is equality. It is great because men and women are the same. They are human beings.
We have passed 10 countries and 10 borders and just one remain.
FRIEND: [subtitles] Pakistan is 11.
SADIQ: [subtitles] You won’t believe me, but I haven’t seen even one picture of Finland.
I have encouraged them to go Finland because it is a nice place, and I have never seen any picture from Finland. [laughs] So but I know there is a nice place. I know. I believe it.
[subtitles] Where is it?
FRIEND: [subtitles] It’s a big country.
SADIQ: [subtitles] Capital city is Helsinki. Religion is Christianity.
Finland is bigger than Germany, but the population is too little, five million. So we want to go there to increase the population of the country. [laughs]
I don’t know here is Finland or Sweden.
Sorry, sir. Here is Sweden or Finland?
OFFICER: This is Finland.
SADIQ: Yes. Yes, it is Finnish. Here is Finland.
The “Jungle,” Calais, France
HASSAN, 21 Miles to the U.K.: I would never have ever thought about going to England if I’d know how bad Calais was. I spent the worst days of my life in Calais. I [expletive deleted] hate Calais.
A friend of mine knows someone who has around nine people from his family who made it to the U.K. using a fake passport. He gave me his number. I contacted him, and he was, like, “Send me a picture— send me your pictures, and the passport will be ready in five days.” Tomorrow morning, hopefully, I’ll pick up the passport. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t work, then I’ve tried everything.
Back in Syria, every time it rained, my mom would say, “It’s a blessful day.” So hopefully, now that it’s raining, it’s all going to go for the best.
When I think about my memories, when I think about how Syria was, it is very happy memories. But suddenly, this all disappeared. Syria has a long past of dictatorship and corruption and— we did see it coming, right? We knew it was going to happen.
HASSAN: Going on protests in Syria was like going on a suicide mission. You would go and you may never come back.
Suddenly, we were surrounded by military intelligence police, fully armed. They had iron poles. And as soon as they arrived, they were, like, “Give us your phones and your— like, empty your pockets, throw them on the floor.” We did. And they were, like, “Lie down on your— lie down on the floor.” We did. And there were around 20 minutes of heavy beating.
And they used to hit to deform. They— it’s— I— all I used to think was that I don’t want to lose my face. And I was protecting my face with both of my arms until both of them got very— like, badly broken. My wrists were shattered. And they wouldn’t stop, just wouldn’t stop. And you’re screaming for mercy or pleading for them to stop, but they just wouldn’t.
I’ve got two of my ribs broken, and my left leg was— was heavily damaged. After that long session of beating, they took us to the station, put us in a cell. And things were very ugly there, just inhumane on many different levels.
I’m just going to stop for a while.
[Hassan paid $6,000 for a plane ticket and fake passport.]
HASSAN: I got here my new passport, and here’s my new name, Fredo Nesrova. [laughs] The smuggler also sent me this via email, which is the boarding pass. The next step is— [phone rings] Oh, sorry.
MOTHER: Yes, son.
HASSAN: How are you, my dear?
MOTHER: My heart is with you.
HASSAN: I give you my heart. Look, this is my new passport.
MOTHER: [laughter] I don’t even know you!
HASSAN: Mom, my flight is in five hours, God willing.
MOTHER: How are you feeling?
HASSAN: I rely on God.
FATHER: Shave your beard.
HASSAN: I will leave it a bit.
MOTHER: If you shave, you will look more Western. [laughter]
HASSAN: OK, speak later.
Oh, my God. I’m already freaking out. I shouldn’t, but I’m really, really scared.
Fredo, Fredo Nesrova.
[After three months in the U.K., Ahmad has been granted asylum.]
AHMAD: This is my neighborhood. I’m— this is Epsom. Yes, home sweet home. I’m living with an English family for the last five weeks. I posted something on Facebook, and these people just called me and said, “Please, come live with us.”
NINA: Would you like something?
AHMAD: Yes, a cup of tea, please.
NINA: Tea? Tea or coffee?
AHMAD: Tea. Thank you.
NINA: With milk?
NINA: Turning you into an Englishman.
AHMAD: Well, yeah, because first when I arrived, I didn’t drink the English tea. But now I’m becoming English.
My family are living just near the Turkish borders, at some point here. North of my place, it’s under ISIS control. So they need to get to Lebanon, and from Lebanon to Beirut, to get to the British embassy to have an interview for family reunion, then within 24 hours to leave Lebanon back to Syria. They are not allowed to stay in Lebanon.
So they will finish the interview, and they go back to Syria again until they hear about the decision, whether their application has been accepted or rejected. It’s a very dangerous, horrible journey.
[recording of phone call]
EVA: [subtitles] Hello, Daddy.
AHMAD: Eva. My daughter’s voice.
AISHA: [subtitles] Do you love Ahmad? Say, “I love you.”
EVA: [subtitles] I love you.
AHMAD: You know— oh, God.
HASSAN: Across the world, so many people are fleeing their countries. Some are fleeing war. Some are fleeing poverty. They all have something in common, which is looking for somewhere safe to live.
[Alaigie finally made it to Italy eight months after leaving home.]
ALAIGIE: I have achieved my dream, you know, to be in Europe, my first dream. It’s up to me now to help my family.
AHMAD: I am a refugee. I just look like you. I’ve got a family. I’ve got dreams. I’ve got hopes. I’ve got a home. You know, I’ve got everything, literally nothing different from you people. I just want a peaceful life away from violence.
[greeting wife and daughter at the airport] Hey!
HASSAN: Anyone can become a refugee, anyone. It’s not something which you choose, it’s something that happens to you.
[Sadiq was denied asylum in Finland. He is appealing.]
HASSAN: And just like it happened to me, it can happen to you.
[Isra’a’s family reached Germany seven months after fleeing Aleppo. Their asylum claim is being processed.]
HASSAN: I was one of the 1.1 million people who crossed into Europe in 2015.
I am Hassan, Hassan from Syria.
AIRLINE PILOT: Welcome to the United Kingdom. The local time is—
[Hassan was granted asylum six months after arriving in the U.K.]
[In 2016 almost 400,000 refugees and migrants made the journey to Europe.]