Accessibility links

From Syria to Europe, Refugees Say There’s 'No Choice'


These young Syrian refugees couldn't talk long because they were hard at work near the Turkish border with Syria. Collecting and selling trash together from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., they can make, at most, $3 a day, Kilis, Turkey, Sept. 6, 2015. (Photo by H. Mu

These young Syrian refugees couldn't talk long because they were hard at work near the Turkish border with Syria. Collecting and selling trash together from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., they can make, at most, $3 a day, Kilis, Turkey, Sept. 6, 2015. (Photo by H. Mu

"A bomb came to our house and then it fell down,” said 9-year-old Ahmed, a Syrian refugee who begs for small change on the Turkish side of the border.

He raised one hand and clapped it on his other. “Our house,” he repeated quietly, quickly fading out of the conversation.

Migrants walk from the main station in Dortmund, Germany, to a hall where they get first attendance Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015.

Migrants walk from the main station in Dortmund, Germany, to a hall where they get first attendance Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015.

On the same day in Germany, kilometers and worlds away, thousands of refugees were greeted by volunteers welcoming them, after many of them were held against their will for days in Hungary.

All of Syria's neighbors have closed their borders hoping to contain the war, but they cannot stop the tide of refugees coming out, draining their economies. And as more and more bypass neighboring countries, Syrian refugees from here to Europe say they have "no choice" but to move on.

Neighbors Strained

Since the Syrian war began more than four years ago, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have taken in the vast majority of the now more than 4 million refugees. That number doesn’t include the more than 7 million people who have fled their homes and remain in Syria.

The recent rush of refugees from across the Middle East and Africa to Europe has forced European countries to reconsider immigration policies, with several countries pledging to take in more refugees.

"Now we have to move step-by-step away from emergency measures towards normality, in conformity with the law and dignity,” said Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann after the refugees finally entered Germany.

“Dignity”

“Conformity with the law,” however, in no way describes how the refugees got there.

Thousands are still crossing the Mediterranean Sea every week, paying sometimes thousands of dollars to be smuggled in dangerous boats. So far this year, 2,700 people have died trying to get to Greece and Italy, and to a lesser extent, Spain, according to the International Migration Organization.

And for many refugee children in Turkey, “dignity” is not an option. “I work from 7 in the morning to 7 at night,” said a young Syrian refugee who appeared about 5 years old.

He then swung his torso back into the dumpster to collect trash to sell. The most he can make is $3 a day.

Legal Definitions

As the desperation in Syria and its border countries increases, so, too, does Europe’s debate about how to quickly sort the “refugees” from the “economic migrants,” in order to know whom to help.

According to international law, refugees are entitled to some level of aid and protection in most countries, while economic migrants are not. But as hundreds of thousands of people clamor to get into Europe, many people are running from both violence and poverty.

Syrian migrants travel along a road after crossing into Hungary from the border with Serbia near Roszke, Hungary, Aug. 29, 2015.

Syrian migrants travel along a road after crossing into Hungary from the border with Serbia near Roszke, Hungary, Aug. 29, 2015.

All Syrians fleeing the war zones are refugees, many running from airstrikes or extremist militant groups like Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front. But many also are on the move to escape crushing poverty.

At a bus station here in Kilis on Sunday, Aman and her seven children waited for the next bus to Gaziantep, the nearest large city. Her husband fled to Turkey two weeks ago, and she and the children followed just two days ago.

Her family suffered in the midst of bomb blasts and battles for years, but finally moved when they could no longer afford to feed themselves, Aman said.

When asked if she and other refugees were coming to Turkey to escape through technically closed borders in case they are one day entirely closed, she said: “I don’t know about that. We came because we need money.”

Reuters contributed to this report

XS
SM
MD
LG