Video Duration 25 minutes 00 seconds
From: Compass

The Invisible Railroad for Syrian Refugees

After days on a crowded boat crossing the Mediterranean, one Syrian refugee family strives for a new future in Austria.

Ahmad Khalil knew that his family’s days in Syria were numbered when security forces and militia cordoned off his neighbourhood in Damascus in April 2013. He says the massacre began shortly after.

“The attack was atrocious. We saw knives and cleavers and witnessed killings by the Syrian regime and militia,” said Khalil. “That’s when I decided we had to flee Syria as soon as possible, by any means necessary.”

The last boat the Khalil's took had standing room only with 500 people on board [Ahmad Khalil/Al Jazeera]
The last boat the Khalil’s took had standing room only with 500 people on board [Ahmad Khalil/Al Jazeera]

In Syria, Khalil owned a store selling dental supplies and equipment.

He fled the violence on foot with his wife and three children, now six, 10, and 14, expecting to die at the hands of Syrian security forces at any moment. Days later, Khalil and his family made it to safety in Egypt. His journey, however, had just begun.

The conflict in Syria has displaced 6.5 million people internally and caused another three million to flee the country entirely.

While the majority of these refugees end up in border countries like Turkey and Jordan, an increasing number of Syrians are fleeing to Europe.

The main route to reach Europe is by crossing the Mediterranean from Libya. After five days on a crowded boat, Ahmed Khalil and his family finally made it to Italy. But this is not where their journey ends.

Having escaped the war their goal is to enter Austria undetected, where they hope for a new beginning and a brighter future.

In this film, Sheila MacVicar travels to Italy and Sweden. She speaks to Nawal Soufi, a migrant rights activist in Sicily who meets refugees once they have arrived in Italy – she is known as “the voice of the Mediterranean” to the many who have her phone number before they make the crossing; Reas Syed of the Islamic Associations of Milan, who discusses the Dublin Convention, which mandates that wherever a refugee is first identified they must apply for asylum in that country; Margot Wallstrom, the Swedish foreign affairs minister, who talks about why Sweden wants migrants; and Robert Ford, the last US ambassador to Syria.