Refugee Road: Five Years of Conflict, One Long Journey
For five years, the people of Syria have been living through a brutal war that has left more than 250,000 people dead, displaced half the population, and destroyed great swaths of the nation’s infrastructure. Desperate for safety, more than 4.8 million people have fled across the borders seeking refuge in nearby countries that are feeling the deep strain of hosting their war-weary neighbors.
Now, many families exhausted by uncertainty are making the long and often dangerous journey into Europe in the hope of building better lives for themselves. It is their stories these pictures tell — from the makeshift dwellings they have called home for too long to the harrowing Mediterranean crossings they risk their lives to make. Captured by Oxfam photographer Pablo Tosco, the images here offer a glimpse into the hardships of forced exile and the fortitude of families who refuse to give up hope.
As they crossed the border into Serbia, Khaled, his wife, and their children had just 72 hours — all that’s allowed on the travel permits — to make their way through the country on their journey to safety. They are among more than 4.8 million refugees who have fled the brutal fighting in Syria. Five years of war have displaced about half the country’s population of 22 million.
On the small Greek island of Lesbos, many boats arrived daily crowded with Syrian refugees and other migrants who have risked the dangers of a water crossing from Turkey, often at night and in bad weather, in their search for safety. Many have paid traffickers as much as $1,100 apiece for the journey. And many don’t make it: more than 2,800 migrants died crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe in 2015.
Landing on the shores of Lesbos, a small island in Greece, Syrian refugees and other migrants face arduous days ahead as they continue their long trek to safety. Many are escaping violence and destruction in Syria, where five years of war have driven about half of the country’s population from their homes. More than 4.8 million people have fled, seeking refuge in neighboring countries and beyond.
Nour, who is from the Syrian city of Aleppo, fled the fighting with her son and five grandchildren. Here they are waiting with other migrants at a registration area on the border between Macedonia and Greece.
At the Tabanovce railway station in Macedonia, men look out from a train window. The station also serves as a transit camp for Syrian refugees crossing the border between Macedonia and Serbia on their long journey to safety. More than 4.8 million people have fled Syria in the five years since war broke out, destroying communities and leaving 13.5 million people inside the country in need of humanitarian aid.
Holding her 72-hour travel permit, Syrian refugee Fatheh Ali, whose house was destroyed in the war, gets ready to make the trek across Serbia with four of her children. “The whole trip has been very difficult,” she said. “My God, we have walked a lot. The hardest part was crossing the sea, 16 people in a boat. Luckily the sea was calm, but still we were afraid. When we arrived in Greece nobody came to welcome us. We were two days sleeping on the street. On the [ground], with nothing to cover us.”
Like many who have fled the devastating war in Syria, Ibrahim and Aisha now live in an informal settlement in neighboring Lebanon, where one in every five people is a refugee from Syria. More than one million Syrians have sought safety in Lebanon, but with few ways to make a living there, 70 percent of Syrian refugee households live below the national poverty line of $4 per person per day.
The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan was designed to shelter about 25,000 people. But as Syrians continued to flee the violence in their country, the camp had to expand rapidly to accommodate tens of thousands more. By February 2015, about 85,000 people were living here — still just a fraction of the more than 600,000 refugees from Syria who have now crossed into Jordan for safety.
In August 2013, Liqaa and Bassell welcomed their first child — Limar — born in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan where tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have sought safety from the brutal war in their country.
“It was such a beautiful day for me and for my husband to see this sweet baby,” said Liqaa, who had longed to deliver her first child at home in Syria with her family nearby. “I was so happy. After giving birth I was tired but after seeing her I forgot about my tiredness.”
But other worries began to weigh heavily on her.
“Before giving birth I didn’t mind life inside the camp. My husband tried so much to get us out, but I refused. But now it’s so difficult to raise a baby here,” said Liqaa. “The climate is too hot for her during the day, and in the night it’s so cold. Hospitals here are not that good to get medicines and medical services. Adults can get by with the services we have here, but for children it’s much harder.
“I said earlier that we need peace in Syria for our children. Now that I’ve given birth to Limar it’s even more important for me and for her to have our country back, for her to grow up there with our family.”
Close living quarters are the reality for families now living in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Abu Omar, who has five daughters, fled with his family to Jordan in 2012 and, after selling a car he left back in Syria, managed to open a bakery in the camp. About 86 percent of Syrian refugees who have settled outside of the camps in Jordan live below the poverty line of $3.20 a day.
“Every time I fly my kite, I feel free,” said this 13-year-old boy who lives in the Zaatari camp in Jordan, now home to tens of thousands of refugees from Syria. He is one of more than 4.8 million people who have fled the country in the five years since war broke out. More than half of Syria’s refugees are under the age of 18.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
We believe everyone has the right to a safe sanctuary and basic services to ensure their dignity and well-being. Since the conflict first broke out, Oxfam has reached more than 1.5 million people with desperately needed food, water, and shelter. Together with local partners, we are working with families inside Syria and with refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. And we are assisting others in Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia as they negotiate a host of challenges on their trek to safety.
Add your name to the petition urging President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to protect Syrian civilians, honor our commitment to resettle Syrian refugees, and help bring an end to the crisis: oxfamamerica.org/syria5