The world is experiencing the biggest human migration since the end of World War II – millions of people displaced from their homes by politics, persecution, and violence. Tens of thousands of tired and poor people yearning to be free are hazarding journeys out of the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa through Turkey, Greece, and the Balkans and from there to the promised land: Western Europe, where there are jobs and safety.
A Monitor cover story (click here) by Kristen Chick – with photography by Ann Hermes – is the vivid and personal account of two resourceful Syrians navigating today’s underground railroad. Many refugees carry thousands of dollars that they and their families have saved and thus can be prey to robbers. Most share information via Facebook and other social media, posting photos and advising one another on the safest routes and the most trustworthy smugglers.
Kristen, whom Monitor readers will remember for her brave, insightful coverage of the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt, is now based in Kosovo. She met Muhannad and Nasser not far from there on the Greek-Macedonian border. I’ll let her take it from there:
“They were friendly, especially when they realized I had reported in Syria and spoke Arabic. They were surprised when I said I would meet them at 4 a.m. to walk with their group as they crossed the border.
“I stayed in touch with them as they moved north, and drove up to Serbia to meet them there when they made it. After that I felt I started to earn their trust, and they started to open up and tell me more. I walked with them and their small group as they made the attempt to cross the border into Hungary. It was dark, and we were walking among fields, in a deserted area. When we had just about reached the border, I stopped and told them that was as far as I would go, wished them luck, and urged them to continue on.
“But they were worried about how I would get back into town alone, in the dark, on foot. They suggested walking back with me a ways until they knew I would be safe. So here these two guys were risking their entire journey because they were worried about my safety. It really stunned me, that in the midst of all this, they would think about the welfare of others rather than themselves....
“When I got back to a town, found Wi-Fi, and checked my phone, I had 10 messages from the guys. They were worried that something had happened to me.”
According to the United Nations, some 60 million people have fled their homes because of conflict or persecution. The situations in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Congo account for the majority of the displaced. Thanks to Kristen’s intrepid reporting and Ann’s careful photo documentation, you will meet two of the 60 million – and understand something of the risks they are taking and common humanity we share.