September 15, 2015 / 7:10 AM / 4 years ago

Refugee journey: 'Happy memories' all thrown overboard

Reuters photographer Zohra Bensemra is following a group of families fleeing the war in Syria and seeking a new life in Europe. Her first report comes from Lesbos in Greece, where she caught up with refugees she had earlier met in Bodrum, on the coast of Turkey. They had been brought by people smugglers across the narrow strip of water between the two countries.

Yasmine, a 6-year-old migrant from Deir Al Zour in war-torn Syria, cries at the beach after arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos September 11, 2015. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

LESBOS, Greece, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Six-year-old Yasmine is crying on the beach. The men who have just brought her family across the narrow sea between Bodrum in Turkey and this Greek tourist island threw away the dress her grandmother gave her.

It was tossed into the water in a bag as her family crossed by tiny boat, fleeing their home in Deir al-Zor in war-torn Syria for what they hope will be a new, safer life in Europe.

They are heading for Germany, which is one of the reasons for Yasmine’s tears. Her grandmother has been a refugee in that country for two months and the girl had brought the dress to show the older woman that she had kept it.

A bit later, Yasmine’s father — 30-year-old Ihab — tells of his own emotional pain as he sits on a ferry sent by the Greek authorities to get the refugees to Athens and on their way.

The same bag contained his wedding photographs.

Ihab says it feels like all his happy memories have been lost.

The family is one of tens of thousands crossing into Europe from Turkey and the Middle East aiming to get north, through Greece and the Balkans into Hungary and beyond.

Many are paying people smugglers for parts of the journey, notably the dangerous crossing between Turkey and Greece.

Malik, 24, from the Kurdish area of Hasaka in Syria, says he had to sell his niece’s earrings for 150 euros to top up the 2,250 euros per person his five-strong family paid the smugglers to get to Lesbos.

Refugees must pay in dollars to cross from Bodrum in an inflatable boat, they say, while what they call a yacht costs euros.

Getting to the smugglers’ boat took a five-hour overnight drive and a two-hour walk through a dark forest with armed men, says Haytham, a refugee fleeing from fighting in Damascus.

“We were not allowed to use any light,” he says.

The crossing from Turkey and the eventual trip to Athens is only the beginning for Yasmine and the various families. Ahead lies a trek north through Greece, up via Macedonia and Serbia to Hungary and on to Austria, Germany and more industrialised countries.

Slideshow (8 Images)

A long walk, an observer says to Feras Chawa, another newly arrived Syrian on the beach in Lesbos.

“I am ready to walk to end of the world to get a better life and good education for my children,” he says.

($1 = 0.8825 euros)

Reporting by Zohra Bensemra; Writing by Jeremy Gaunt; Editing by Catherine Evans

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