As the war in Syria nears the 5-year mark, families are still fleeing the brutal violence in search of safety. Many families end up in refugee camps or settlements in neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq or Turkey — but there is little opportunity in those places to create a new life or build a stronger future.
So families face an impossible choice: Stay in a relatively safe camp where conditions are often poor and there’s little hope for the future, or make the dangerous journey towards northern Europe, where they may find safety, education and the possibility of success.
Many choose the difficult path towards a more hopeful future. Thousands of families are boarding small, overcrowded dinghies every day as they embark on the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to Greece.
If they make it across safely, refugees must still pass through several more countries, including Macedonia and Serbia, on their way north.
The journey is not easy — there’s no rest for days at a time and refugees must walk, sometimes for miles, through snow and freezing temperatures with whatever they can carry.
More than 55 percent of the refugees making this tough trip are women and children — some who’ve never known a life without war.
“Traveling has been hard. Very hard. We had to pass through the desert and we walked through a lot of snow in the cold and rain,” said 16-year-old Safa. “We hiked through mountains. And also came over the sea to here, another risk.”
Mercy Corps is working in Greece, Macedonia and Serbia to help refugees making the trip north stay safe, warm and get the information they need to move forward.
“We’re going to Germany for stability,” Safa said. “We want a house. When we finally have that we’ll feel safe. That’s everyone’s dream.”
Below, meet some of the youngest refugees braving the difficult winter conditions, and read what they had to say about the journey.
Mustafa, 5 — Syria
“It was a little hard. After we got on the boat and got further into the ocean the raft filled up with water more and more. But thankfully nothing happened. Thankfully, nothing happened. Thank God. There was some walking that had to be done on our journey.”
Maram, 13 — Syria (Mustafa’s sister)
"The people in Greece were so nice to us, but the journey has been very exhausting, and the boats were very scary. The people here are so nice. And the police are very nice. They saw some kids who were cold and they brought them jackets. Now we are going to Germany, and we will study and learn the language. And we will stay there and hope for a happy life."
Alaa, 14, Muhamed, 4, and Omer, 5 — Deir A Zur, Syria
All three boys are on the road with their families from an area in the northeast of Syria. They are on the train as it prepares to leave Presevo, Serbia for the Croatian border. Both Muhamed and Omer have not known life without war.
Farzat, 6 and Farzaneh, 5 — Mazari Sharif, Afghanistan
Siblings Farzat and Farzaneh have been traveling with their family for a month and a half from Afghanistan. The family feared for their life there. They are hoping to make it to the safety of Germany. “Traveling was difficult,” said their mother, Fatimah. “The weather was cold, they did not have shoes. When we came to the camp in Greece we received clothes and shoes and now we are comfortable.”
Muhaned, 12 — Daraa, Syria
“When we were leaving, we had to hike a big mountain, and it was raining for days. Some people decided to go back to Syria and others took the risk to continue on. The path was very difficult. It’s more comfortable now, but we don’t have money left to go to Germany.”
Inaas, 6 — Syria
Inaas and her family are hoping to make a new life in Germany. They must take this train from Presevo, Serbia to the Croatian border to move forward with their journey.
Janny, 3 — Syria
Young Janny takes a break with her family to warm up in one of Mercy Corps’ temporary shelters near the Presevo train station. Janny, her mother, and her three teen brothers are on their way to meet their father in Germany. Two other mothers and their children have been traveling alongside them since they arrived in Greece.
Hamood, 6 — Hama, Syria
Hamood holds his father’s hand before they board a train in Tabanovce, Macedonia. Next, they’ll make their way across the border to Serbia and continue on their journey.
Danna, 3 — Syria
Young Danna takes a break with her family in a temporary shelter along the refugee route in Serbia.
Ahmed, 7 (right) — Damascus, Syria
“The raft it stopped three times. Before we knew it we ended up at the Greek shore. My dad said it was deflating on the ocean before we got there. We left because there is lots of trouble in Syria. Europe will give us everything. I want to go to Holland because there is food there.”
Muhammed-Yassar, 10 — Syria
Muhammed-Yassar and his family board a crowded train in Presevo, Serbia that will take them to the Croatian border, where they can continue their journey.
How you can help
- Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide even more food, water, shelter and support to Syrian refugees and families in crisis around the world.
- Tell your friends. Share this story and spread the word about the millions of people who need us.
- Start a campaign. You can turn knowledge into action by setting up a personal fundraising page and asking your friends and family to contribute to our efforts to help Syrians fleeing the war.
- Stay informed. Read more stories about our work and those we are helping on our Syria crisis response page. You can also learn more about our focus on protecting Syria’s children.