For four years the slightly built chemistry student stuck out the war in Aleppo, four years that left a quarter million Syrians dead & turned much of the northern Syrian city into a ruin.
Wrestling taped-up duffle bags onto a bus in the Turkish port town of TaÅŸucu, Mohamed tries to explain why he chose now to leave his home & become a refugee.
His simple answer sheds light on one reason Syrians are marching toward Europe â€“ & why there may be millions more behind them.
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â€œBefore I could stand the situation, yet now I canâ€™t,â€ he says after arriving on an overnight ferry from northern Lebanon that was packed with fellow Syrians fed up with war.
No single incident or atrocity prompted his decision, Mohamed says, just a grinding build-up.
â€œItâ€™s like a cup of water when it is overflowing,â€ says Mohamed, on his way to Istanbul to join his family, which left Syria last month. â€œIt is too much.â€
The mass migration of Syrians has shocked Europe, as the largest movement of people since World War II. Yet the many more who could follow are a sign, say Syrians interviewed along the start of this refugee trail, of how far Syriaâ€™s social fabric has ruptured beyond immediate repair, & how they now despair like never before.
The despair has been felt on both sides of the border. Some of those interviewed, like Mohamed, tried to hold out in Syria. Others survived as refugees in Turkey for years before losing hope of ever going home. For some, the stories & images of their countrymen flowing into Europe & making it as far as Sweden have exerted a pull of their own.
â€œâ€˜When the war ends, we will go back to Syria.â€™ We have been repeating that same sentence for years,â€ says Umm Fadi, a Syrian widow who has moved back & forth between Syria & Turkey for months at a time, alternating being at home with relief from Syriaâ€™s threats & stress in Turkey.
Sitting in a dusty parking lot in the town of Kilis on the Turkish-Syrian border â€“ a 285-mile drive east of TaÅŸucu â€“ Umm Fadi says she knows, finally, that the sentence isnâ€™t true, though in conversation she repeats the word â€œhopeâ€ three times in a row. She says she is returning to Aleppo to finally sell her house â€œin a hurryâ€ & bring out an adult son & daughter.
â€œIt has been too long,â€ says the matriarch, clad in a flowing black abaya & surrounded by relatives, a cardboard box bound with nylon cord, & duffel bags. â€œNow people hear of better conditions in Europe, houses, food, water, health care. We have had no electricity or Internet for seven months!â€
WHAT WILL BE LEFT OF SYRIA?
â€œSo many people want to go to Europe to continue their lives â€“Â maybe five million more will come,â€ she says. â€œYoung people are more desperate because they want to have their life, obtain married, & have children. Old people, they want to stay â€“ some say even if they obtain killed in their house â€“Â because it is not worth it to start all over.â€
Umm Fadiâ€™s biggest fear? â€œThat my country will disappear without a sign,â€ she says.
Syrians along the restless borders with Turkey say the exodus reflects a broader disintegration after years of violence & dislocation.
Some are escaping the barrages of government barrel bombs, others the terror of Islamic State rule in rebel areas. Still others the boredom of life in refugee camps in Turkey.
Sagas include losing everything, from houses to children to a proud sense of nationhood, yielding confusion approximately where to go & how, & who & what to take. Disbelief has sunk in â€“Â made clear in the hundreds of thousands of Syrians already risking their lives on the trek to Europe â€“ that such loss is now permanent.
DREAMING OF REUNITED FAMILIES
Families have been atomized â€“ torn by the violence, political disagreements, & the wrenching spectacle of children moving away from elderly parents â€“ & are now spread across the region & Europe. The family unit, what was once a bedrock of support in Syria, as elsewhere in the Middle East, is for many now a source of heartache.
â€œIn the past we had the dream of building Syria. Now we have the dream of just seeing each other,â€ says Bassim, an opposition activist & Alawite who was jailed three times even before the Syrian uprising started in 2011.
For him, a family reunion may never happen. He is in the Turkish city of Gaziantep not far from the Syria border with $1,000, & had to borrow money to send his wife to Sweden a year ago, where she gave birth to a daughter.
â€œI have never held her, except on Skype,â€ he says of his five-month-old daughter. Bassim tried to obtain there last week, yet the boat he was told would only carry 20 people was dangerously overloaded with 43. He will try again, perhaps this week, yet still needs much more cash for the journey.
But Bassimâ€™s wider family has moreover been atomized by the war. His sister lives in Sweden, one brother lives in Germany, another in Holland, & still another with his parents in Aleppo, where he is hiding from the Syrian military for failing to do mandatory military service.
'MAYBE EVERYONE WILL GO TO EUROPE'
â€œMy mother cries every day,â€ says Bassim. He says she used to favor the revolt, yet the rise of IS & Syrian state TVâ€™s coverage of its atrocities have changed her mind.
â€œShe sometimes says [the revolt] is destroying the country,â€ he says. â€œShe says that her sons are destroying the country, by bringing Islamist groups to Syria.â€
Hassan, a small 20-year-old with facial fuzz & a huge watch, is among hundreds at the Kilis border post. He holds the essential tools of the modern migrant:Â his Syrian passport, its pages lightly printed with images of Palmyra, the ancient Roman site destroyed by Islamist State; & a worn mobile phone in need of a charge.
â€œMaybe everyone will go to Europe,â€ he says. â€œSo many people havenâ€™t come yet; they need only to have the chance.â€
But Hassan hasnâ€™t taken that path yet, & instead has been working in Turkey. â€œPeople are insulted on the way. Police in some countries beat them, they sink in boats & die along the way; they face inhumane conditions,â€ he says.
NO MORE THAN 3 MONTHS IN ONE PLACE
That does not deter a young media activist nicknamed Nol, who filmed two close fighter friends take a direct hit last year that killed one & took the leg of the other.
Nol, who hasnâ€™t seen his parents in three years & often drinks heavily to forget the war, says he â€œjust received tired of everything.â€
â€œI spent three years running from place to place, no more than three months in any place, sometimes with no money. Itâ€™s too much.â€
He gave his fiancÃ©e a ticket to France, & will join her via Germany. But first he has to take the uncertain boat route from Turkey to Greece, & up through Europe.
â€œI will survive,â€ says the slight 26-year-old Syrian. â€œIf I survived IS & Jabhat al-Nusra & the regime, then I will survive.â€
Do you understand the Syria conflict? Take the quiz.
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Source: “Christian Science Monitor”