Journalist and livestreamer, Avi Blecherman from Mekomit spent last week in Hungary and had the opportunity to walk awhile with a Syrian refugee. The following interview was filmed on September 11 while walking towards the Austrian border with Mahmud (name changed for anonymity)
Mahmud is a 21 year old refugee from Damascus. He left Syria about 2 months ago with several family members and began the long journey west that so many refugees are walking to safety.
INTERVIEW: A Walk with a Syrian Refugee
From Damascus Mahmud went to Beirut, Lebanon where he took an airplane to Istanbul. Then he went to Izmir where he was supposed to leave but ended up on a 20 day ride around Turkey because the driver kept lying to them. From Izmir he was driven to Bodrum then to Marmaris then back to Bodrum and then back again to Izmir. Then Mahmud along with 55 people took a small boat about 7 meters long and sailed to the Greek island of Samos. The trip took 5 hours on the sea. The engine stopped twice en route and the boat started to fill with water when they were about 2km away from the island but they made it safely to shore.
Mahmud recalls that the Greek police were nice and papers only took 1 day where his friends told him on other islands papers took 10 days. They went from Samos to Athens to Thessaloniki in Greece, near the Macedonian border and then crossed into Macedonia where there were many people waiting to cross.
They were caught by police in Macedonia who took them to a place where they could get a taxi to the Serbian border. From there they walked maybe 4km into Serbia then took a bus to Belgrade.
Mahmud said crossing from Serbia into Hungary was difficult. He tried to cross once by going through woods but police caught him and directed him to follow a railway until he reached a camp. There were a lot of people in the camp and a lot of press so they were treating people nicely at the first camp he reached.
They ran away and walked almost 6km but got caught by police in Szeged. They were taken to another camp where Mahmud says they were treated very badly. When they were caught the police hit one of his friends and also hit his uncle. They were sent to a camp where they received no food for four days, only water. He also said the location was very dirty and the conditions were not fit for humans.
People got angry and started to shout but more police came and started hitting more people. They took little children away from their mother and no one knew where they went. They were moved to another camp where they stayed 2 days and were fingerprinted.
Most of the police Mahmud met with did not speak English and he said the ones who did – didn’t want to talk to them. Information given by police was confusing.
Mahmud says a lot of people don’t want to go to Germany. Many want to go to Holland, Sweden, Belgium, but once they give fingerprints in Hungary there’s no where else they can go.
Why Did Mahmud Leave Syria?
Mahmud explains that Syrians had hope that the war would stop one day but it’s only getting worse. The war was really hard only in certain cities at first – but now it’s everywhere. In Damascus you can’t stay safe in your own home. You might get blown up. Damascus is divided into neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods get hit by the government, other neighborhoods get hit by ISIS. There isn’t one safe street in Damascus now.
Also there’s no electricity or water. The last month he was there he went for 2 weeks without water and only 2 hours of electricity in 1 day.
Most people who have left are people who had the means to leave. Syrians are selling their homes, their cars… any belongings they have they are selling to make the journey because it costs money. Some have been saving money since the start of the war but there’s a lot of poor people who really can’t leave even if they sold their homes. They are still there. Mahmud was living in a rented home – his mother saved for the journey for himself, herself and his sisters. There are no jobs and no future in Syria.
What does it feel like being a refugee?
“You shouldn’t wish for this. You feel lost, very bad. You only hope to finish this road. I just feel like I just want to get there, to rest, to feel settled.
The feeling of being a guest in a country where you’re not really wanted is bad.
The only way to keep your hope up is to keep telling yourself there’s no way I’m going back there – no matter what happens. You’re going to get killed if you go back to Syria.
If it gets better than I’m going to go back. It’s home.”
Mahmud tells about the one time he got to leave the camp and went into a cafe. He wanted to buy some food, he had money to pay for it he wasn’t asking for free food. They kicked him out, they said “Out out!” shouting in their language. Everyone in the cafe started looking at him like he was trying to do something wrong. He felt humiliated and tears started.
All he wishes for his family is no more troubles.