Leaving war-torn Syria, one family crosses Europe to embark on another challenging trek: starting a new life in Germany.
In 2015, more than 500,000 refugees arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos in Europe’s biggest immigration crisis since World War II. For many of them, their final destination is Germany.
Despite the risks, Abdulrahman Osman and his wife, Kraiz, decided that they should attempt the dangerous journey together with their four children – joining the masses of refugees entering Europe.
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We meet them at the end of their sea crossing from Turkey to Greece.
They wash up on the beach, exhausted and slightly disoriented. But anything is better than remaining in Syria, they say.
Crossing Europe on foot, in buses and on trains, their journey takes 10 days of almost non-stop moving.
Finally, they arrive in Germany. It is here they face an equally daunting challenge, starting from scratch in an unfamiliar country.
This is the end of the beginning for refugees arriving in Western Europe, exiting the camps and establishing a new home, building security for their future, schools for the children and eventually new work – all in a language they don’t speak and in a society that may not always be that welcoming.
By Adam Pletts
It was difficult to make sense of what was happening in the eastern Mediterranean in the summer of 2015. Daily, thousands of people who were fleeing war, poverty and persecution, set off in hopelessly overcrowded and unsuitable vessels to make the crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands and then onwards to mainland Europe.
It’s the largest refugee crisis Europe has seen since World War II; in all, over a million migrants entered the continent by that route. The sheer volume of people often made it difficult to empathise with the refugees and migrants on their perilous journey. They came from many countries, but more arrived from war-torn Syria than from any other nation.
In this film, we follow the story of one family who left Syria in the hope of finding safety and a brighter future in Europe. By the time we meet them, the Osmans had already travelled from Damascus via Beirut and Istanbul to the western coast of Turkey near Izmir, from where they crossed the Aegean Sea to land on the island of Lesbos.
We follow their journey from the beach in Lesbos, across Europe, until they eventually settle in a small village in southern Germany.
Although most of the refugees who made the journey were young, single men, there were nonetheless thousands of families among them. And in many ways, the Osmans are a typical example of those who chose to make the journey: A family that had never wanted to leave their home and their friends and loved ones, but like so many others felt they simply didn’t have a choice.
What they probably had not realised was that the journey itself would only be a small part of their struggle. A different set of challenges was laying ahead, which – although not as dangerous as the actual journey – often turned out to be just as challenging, not the least of which were adapting to a new culture and learning a new language.
A year has passed since the Osmans decided to attempt the dangerous, exhausting and extortionately costly journey to Europe.
Arriving in Germany with nothing, they spent three months in crowded camps before being settled in a small town near Frankfurt. The children now attend local schools and are quickly learning German, while their parents, Abdulrahman (who is also known as Abu Hassan) and Kraiz, although slower to learn the new language, have quickly navigated their unfamiliar surroundings.
At the time of writing, Abu Hassan was confident they made the right decision to move their family, “I have no regrets,” he said. “None at all because when I see what is happening in Syria, there is still no peace. I want to live in peace.”
But there is a hint of reticence in the fondness with which he still speaks of his home country. “Of course, I still miss Syria, even it’s soil, it was beautiful – but how could we ever return to war?”
Coincidentally, while we spoke on the phone, talks were simultaneously taking place between the US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, who announced – on the day after our conversation – an ambitious plan for a ceasefire in Syria.
Sadly, few believe that it will succeed and eventually lead to a lasting peace. But for many of the Syrians who left for Europe, even if it did, it would be too little, too late. They are establishing new roots, and many would not return – even if they were given the opportunity to return to a peaceful Syria.