A migrant from Syria holds his baby as they arrived on the island of Lesbos, early on June 18. Some 48,000 migrants and refugees have landed on Greek shores so far this year, compared to 34,000 arrivals during all of 2014, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
By Isabel Malsang, AFP
Adnan’s three-month journey from the bombed-out wreckage of Aleppo to Paris took him on a treacherous voyage by sea, foot, lorries and trains in search of safety and freedom.
“I was wanted. I had taken part in demonstrations for democracy and had been imprisoned four times,” said Adnan, using a false name for fear of repercussions, in a recent interview near Paris.
By November 2013, Adnan had had enough of persecution and the brutal civil war in Syria and crossed the porous border into Turkey.
He headed to the Turkish coast with a smuggler to catch a ride to the Greek island of Lesbos.
“I paid €1,000 ($1,100) to get to Greece. We left around midnight on a 15m (50-foot) motorboat with 32 passengers, including two children and a pregnant woman.”
No smugglers travelled with the group, and no one on board knew how to drive the boat.
“The motor cut out in the middle of the sea. We tried to phone the smugglers on their mobile but there was no answer.
“Luckily, a Sudanese on board had the number of a group that we were able to give our co-ordinates to, and we were saved by the Greek coastguards.”
Landing in Lesbos was a moment of incredible relief for Adnan. Lesbos was Europe. For me, it was the most beautiful town in the world.”
Adnan ended up in Athens, staying in a hostel for €5 a night, but he felt nervous surrounded by hundreds of other migrants and determined to keep moving and reach France.
“France is a civilised country. I heard Sweden was more welcoming but Paris is Paris,” he said.
Getting there meant a gruelling trek across southern Europe, crossing into Macedonia with a group of 15 others.
“We entered by night. A Pakistani showed us the way. Sometimes we walked for 20 hours straight in a line. We crossed valleys, ravines. It was hard. I slept in the forest in the rain.”
The next stretch was done with a group of traffickers, who loaded him into the back of a lorry with other migrants that meant he saw nothing during his three-day journey across Serbia.
“When we got out of the truck, I was completely disorientated. We were in Croatia. Our group split up, but I stayed with another Syrian.”
The pair tried to reach Austria via Slovenia, but were stopped at the Austrian border and held for three days.
His companion decided to stay and take asylum there but Adnan decided to keep moving.
“I was using a GPS on my phone and two maps. A taxi took me to Trieste station in Italy for €70. From there, I took a train to Milan.”
He managed to cross into France by bus, and headed straight for the police station to ask for asylum.
A Tunisian in detention helped him translate from Arabic.
“The police did their report and took my fingerprints. At midnight, they told me to leave but it was snowing.
“I asked them to lock me up for the night because I didn’t have anywhere to go. They let me stay in a cell on condition that I left at 8am.”
The next day he took the train to Lyon and on to Paris, arriving at last on February 18, 2014.
The journey had taken all his strength and cost him €2,250 but he had made it.
He has since gained asylum and found an apartment in France, where he hopes to build a new life.