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Upheaval: The refugee trek through Europe

Refugees, forced to leave their country to escape war, persecution or natural disaster, have no choice but to become immigrants.


Navin Kemani – Photo by Peter-Andreas Hassiepen©

Sean Sheehan


They hope to be able to return to their homeland but, as the Palestinians in Lebanon know only too well, this may take longer than a generation.

The eventual fate of the many thousands of refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq who have made the perilous journey to Europe cannot be known as yet but their story needs telling.

Navid Kemani, an Arab-speaking Muslim German set out to do this when he travelled to the west coast of Turkey on an assignment for the German news weekly Der Spiegel in September 2015.

The Turkish coastal city of Izmir is the first destination for many of the two million refugees admitted into Turkey. Kemai, taken to be a refugee by an assistant in a shop selling life jackets, is assured of being smuggled by sea to the island of Lesbos.

It will cost over a thousand euros for a place in an inflatable boat, 800 euros more for a ‘yacht’ that is little more than a wooden tub. From Lesbos it costs 65 euros for the ferry to Piraeus on the Greek mainland; a further 40 euros for a bus to the Macedonian border and mostly free travel via countries that don’t want them.

Kermani hi res

Hungary closes its border with Serbia but lets them in via Croatia provided they immediately travel on to Austria.

Germany isthe final destination, partly because they are welcomed there and partly because other countries make clear they do not want them.

The Hungarian government heaps contempt on them and encourages racism while, by contrast, in Germany the football clubs in the top league, the Bundesliga, wear patches sewn on their jerseys saying refuges are welcome.

The author chats to a Syrian family who fled their city after surviving a massacre and who managed to reach Jordan.

There are 1.4 million refugees in Jordan but work permits are not granted to them, unsurprising when they make up 20 per cent of the country’s population. Kemani asks if the Gulf States could assist but this is met with derision when the cost of a visa to the Emirates is 6,000 dollars. “Chancellor Merkel’s shoe is worth more than all the Arab leaders”, exclaims the husband.

There is relief for those who make it to Germany. Cologne is the hub city from where refugees are distributed across the country and to Scandinavia.

Citizen volunteers wait on the train platforms to applaud them, donations pour in and tents with heating are provided. It is mo stly young people whovolunteer to help and Kemani ends his account with the significance of their willingness to assist:

Syrians and Iraq refugees arrive in Lesbos
Syrians and Iraq refugees arrive in Lesbos – Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“…with so many different cultures, skills, languages, as if all of them

together were the incarnation of the European idea. If so, they will

preserve and renew the Europe that our generation, no longer scarred

by war and fascism, is threatening to throw away.”

“Upheaval: The refugee trek through Europe”, by Navin Kemani is published by Polity.

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