Syria deserted by its youth, desperate to reach Europe
Damascus - Khaled came out of the certified translation office in Damascus holding his university degree and work attestations as an electrical engineer after having them translated into German. He still has to ratify the papers at the ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs before embarking on the perilous journey to Europe.
“We have reached the limit. The country is being emptied of its youth as a result of the fighting over power. We are leaving it to them: to the regime, to Zahran Alloush (commander of Jaysh al-Islam), to ISIS, to Nusra Front and all the other fighting groups,” said the 30-year-old engineer who asked to be identified only by his first name.
Khaled, who worked in a private company in rural Damascus, lost his job a year ago and is preparing to follow hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have swarmed towards Europe, seeking a better and more secure future.
“I returned with my wife and child to my native Homs province after our home in Dukhaniya was robbed and destroyed. Since then, I have been searching for a job. We have survived so far with the money I got from selling my wife’s jewellery and we still have enough to pay the journey to Germany,” Khaled said.
The mass exodus of war-weary Syrians has created a human migration crisis in Europe. The scope of migration increased tremendously in recent months after EU countries agreed to facilitate the entry of refugees. This has caused a steep drop in the cost of migrants’ travel, from $7,000-10,000 to about $2,500 per person.
The relatively low cost of the trip in addition to assistance that migrants are given upon arrival in northern European countries encouraged many Syrians to attempt the journey.
Would-be migrants turn to travel agencies to organise the first leg of the trip that takes them to Turkey, either through Beirut Airport or by sea from Tripoli in Lebanon.
“During June, July and August, we were overwhelmed by the big numbers of travellers bound for Turkey,” said a travel agent who asked to be identified as Mohamad Said. He said it cost $350-$500 to fly to Turkey and $150-$200 to travel by sea.
Said estimated the number of Syrians who entered Lebanon en route to Turkey during the summer at more than 150,000. “On a daily basis, we have between 20 and 30 buses that can take up to 50 people, transporting the travellers to Lebanon, in addition to private cars,” he said.
Following the suffocation of 71 migrants in a truck in Austria in August, the Syrian government clamped down on travel agents in an attempt to stem the migration flow. More than 20 offices were closed under the pretext of not possessing work licences.
But a travel agent, who asked not to be identified, said while many were shut down despite possessing legal documents, others were kept open to control the travel movement at a time when Lebanese authorities have tightened restrictions on the crossing of Syrians.
“People had to resort to the remaining offices because they have agents who can facilitate crossing on the Lebanese border,” the agent said.
However, despite the obstacles, the exodus, especially by the youth and recent university graduates, has risen dramatically before the arrival of winter, which makes the travel by sea and by land even riskier.
Yasser, a fresh graduate from the law school at Damascus University, has been preparing his exit for weeks. “I have four months before I am summoned to enroll in compulsory military service,” he said. “That is why I have to leave immediately. Staying in Syria has become very dangerous. Already 20 of my friends have reached Europe.”
Syrians trying to reach Europe include families and single mothers. Rasha, whose 3-year-old son was born after her husband was arrested, reached Dortmund in Germany in mid-September following what she described “a deadly journey”.
“We travelled in a convoy of ten buses from Damascus to Tripoli where we boarded a cargo ship to the Turkish port of Mersin. The voyage lasted 12 hours. Most of the passengers were standing all the way because there were not enough seats for everybody,” Rasha told The Arab Weekly in a Skype interview.
She said she went on an overcrowded boat bound to Greece. “Half an hour after we left, the boat broke down. We spent six hours in the sea until the Turkish Coast Guard saved us. I was all the time in the water with my son on my shoulders. But thanks God we reached Germany after a long week. It was hard but we have no future back in Syria,” Rasha added.
In the meantime, institutes teaching German language are proliferating in Damascus, since the majority of Syrian migrants hope to get asylum in Germany, while a few aim for countries such as Holland, Sweden, Norway and Belgium.