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"We took the boat of death": Syrian Refugees Arrive in Austria

"We took the boat of death": Syrian Refugees Arrive in Austria

[Syrian refugees along with other migrants marching from the Hungarian city of Hegyeshalom to the Austrian border. September 2015. Photo by Jonathan Rashad.] [Syrian refugees along with other migrants marching from the Hungarian city of Hegyeshalom to the Austrian border. September 2015. Photo by Jonathan Rashad.]

In September 2015, tens of thousands of Syrian refugees flooded into Austria from the Hungarian city of Hegyeshalom, six kilometers from the Austrian-Hungarian border. According to the United Nations, more than four million Syrians have fled the country since the civil war started.

"We took the boat of death and drowned in the Aegean Sea on the way to Greece," said Hassan Elbalah, a Syrian refugee who escaped the war this year.

As I waited in the bus station in Berlin before heading to Hungary, two Syrian men approached me and desperately asked if I knew how they could go to Malmo, Sweden. When I arrived, the Keleti train station in Budapest seemed deserted of refugees as most of them had been bussed to Austria two days before. The next day I took a train to Hegyeshalom near the Austrian-Hungarian border where I saw hundreds of refugees who came through Croatia. As many marched toward what they considered their final destination, Austria, others planned to take further steps towards the German border.

The refugee crisis this year stands to be the worst since World War II.

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Photo 3 - Yasser Mohamed, 18, poses for a photo in the Austrian city of Nickelsdorf after crossing the border from the Hungarian city of Hegyeshalom. Mohamed is a mechanical engineering student from the Syrian city of Damascus. He escaped to Lebanon two years ago and then crossed the sea to Turkey six months later. His trip to Europe started this month. "The risk I took to cross the sea is still not worse than Syria. In Syria, you die. Hundred percent. Here, it is twenty percent. I can't show my face in a picture, because they would assassinate my family. The Syrian government would do that. Living in Lebanon and Turkey was quite hard. I had to work in construction for over a year and beg for money," he said.

Photo 6 - Aly, 45, with his two-year child Fatma in the Austrian city of Nickelsdorf after crossing the border from the Hungarian city of Hegyeshalom. Aly is a Kurd who was born and raised in the countryside around the Syrian city of Aleppo. He lived in Turkey for two years before he started his journey to Europe. "I cannot share my full name or show my face in the picture for security reasons. If the Syrian intelligence sees my photo or catches my name on the internet, they can easily track down my family in Syria. I want them to be safe," he said as he waited for relatives to reach the Austrian border.

Photo 8 - Kamel Mohamed, 30, in the Hungarian city of Hegyeshalom before crossing the border to the Austrian city of Nickelsdorf. Mohamed was born and raised in the old Syrian city of Aleppo. He used to work in a textile shop before escaping the war. "The whole journey was super risky. However, everything seemed easy after crossing the sea from Turkey to Greece. I had a good life in Syria before the war. Now, I have to wait for my fate," he said as he waited on the Hungarian-Austrian border.

Photo 9 - Ahmed Haj, 30, and his children in the Austrian city of Nickelsdorf after crossing the border from the Hungarian city of Hegyeshalom. Haj was born and raised in the Syrian city of Qamishli. He worked as a carpenter before escaping the war in Syria."I wanted to live in Austria but now I might be obliged to live in Hungary because my finger prints were taken when I crossed the border. My kids need a good future," he said.

Photo 11 - Mohamed Al-Jabbani, 21, in the Austrian city of Nickelsdorf after crossing from the Hungarian city of Hegyeshalom. Al-Jabbani is from the Syrian city of Raqqah where he used to work as a nurse before he escaped the war. "We drowned along the way from Turkey to the Greek island of Samos. The coastal guards saved us by throwing ropes from helicopters. The boat next to us also drowned and twenty-three died in the sea. That was not the hard part of our trip. We even got stolen in Serbia from smugglers," he said.

Photo 12 - Mais Aswad, 24, Mostafa Shokir, 2 and Diaa Shokir, 31, in the Austrian city of Nickelsdorf after crossing the border from the  Hungarian city of Hegyeshalom. The young family is from the Syrian city of Aleppo. The father used to own a textile shop and the mother is an anesthesiologist assistant. "Each person paid $1200 to the smugglers to cross the sea from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos. We were scared the whole time that our son would drown. We would like to live in Austria because we have an uncle here," the parents said.

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