Over land and sea – one Syrian family’s perilous journey to find a safer future

In a crowded tent on a dusty piece of ground near Gevgelija, in the Former Yugoslav Republic (FYR) of Macedonia, the Samir family sits talking to a Red Cross doctor about the illnesses of the four children in the group. All around them, other children fight and wail, and Dr Sandra Ignjatovska has to shout to make herself heard.

By Corinne Ambler, IFRC

“Take one with water. For the pain,” she says, pointing to her throat and handing over a pill. She asks a colleague to shine the torch from his cellphone down the child’s throat so she can take a closer look. “And this one for her.” She hands over a pill and points at a child who is suffering from diarrhoea, as the Arabic interpreter explains to the family what to do.

The Samir family has just crossed the border from Greece into FYR of Macedonia, after travelling for 20 days through Turkey and Greece from their home in Daraa, southern Syria. They are covered in dust, tired and traumatised but when asked how they are, the father of the children, Abukushlif Samir (24), and his mother, Fendiye Seyid (47), break into huge smiles.

“It is a little bit better here than the rest of the States. This is the first time we have seen the Red Cross and a Red Cross doctor. The baby has a cold and a sore throat. And she gave the other girl medicine for fever and diarrhoea,” Samir says.

The four children are all under 6 years old. The two youngest girls are Samir’s children and the older boy and girl are the children of his brother, who is living in Sweden – their ultimate destination. But the journey has not been easy.   

“We were five days on the border of Syria and Turkey, sleeping in the open, and all the time there were shots and sniper fire from above. But it was worst in Turkey. The border with Greece was closed, and that was like hell. We were left with no mercy; without food and without water,” Samir says.     

The family is being cared for by volunteers from the Red Cross of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for the short time they are in the country waiting to catch a train north to the border with Serbia. They are given food, water, nappies and hygiene kits. Samir’s wife is still in Syria, too unwell to travel after a difficult childbirth, but he hopes to be reunited with her when he gets to Sweden. He is glad she did not make this difficult trip.

“It was very bad on the sea. We closed the children’s eyes so they could not see and gave them sleeping pills so they could be calm. We were seven hours on the water and we almost drowned – the little boat we were in had 70 people and it kept filling with water. The boat behind us with 60 people sank and they all drowned. There were many babies; we saw it all happening right in front of our eyes,” he says.

The adults use this brief respite in their long trek to give the children a wash out in the hot sun, using the bottled water provided by Red Cross. Baby Ayar squeals with delight and splashes around in the puddles. Her grandmother washes her only dress and hangs it on the wire fence to dry.

Later Samir says he has one wish. “I ask God, Allah and Mohammed to help all the Syrians in the world wherever they are.”

By nighttime the family has gone, heading north to Serbia and Hungary and hopefully to family in Sweden.

The Red Cross of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been responding to the migrant crisis throughout the country since the start of June 2015 and has 120 volunteers and 20 staff involved in the response.

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Over land and sea – one Syrian family’s perilous journey to find a safer future