Thousands of refugees and migrants from Syria, Iraq and beyond found themselves trapped in Hungary, a nation that did not want them and that tried to block their path. But they persisted, and the government relented, once again opening the pathways to sanctuary in the wealthy nations of Western Europe.
The vast majority are aiming for Germany, which is offering some of the most generous terms of asylum. The journeys are hard, as the men, women and children contend with rough seas, high mountains, aggressive police and bandits. They are traveling lightly. Smartphones. Old basketball shoes. A pair of fake Ray-Bans. Some no longer have hope for a fruitful future but still cling to hope for their children.
From Munich to the Serbia-Hungary border, these are snapshots of the migrants’ trail.
AHMED AL NASSAF, 23 | Damascus to The Netherlands
They were trying to kill our dream. They don’t know that this is our last hope.
Traveling with: Four friends he met on the journey.
Days on the road: 25.
Carrying: Gold-frame glasses, jeans, a white T-shirt, a passport, money, a waterproof Sony phone and a charger.
Most difficult part of the journey: Crossing into Hungary. "The first time we tried, the police wouldn't let us. We had women and babies with us. We were in the forest at night. We said 'Please, let us go.' But they screamed at us and told us, 'No, you can't go.' They were trying to kill our dream. They don't know that this is our last hope."
Hopes for the future: "I want to continue my studies. In the Netherlands, there's a university that's doing new studies into insulin and diabetes. I want to go there and get my higher education. You can't build your future in Syria. There's no electricity, no water. You're always under threat. But I want to go back when it's safe."
AMAR ABDIN, 30 | Damascus to Germany
In every country, we dropped more of our stuff. I ended up with this T-shirt, and that’s about it.
Occupation: Car salesman.
Traveling with: Four cousins, plus a 4-year-old child and an 11-month-old baby.
Days on the road: Nine.
Carrying: A white tank top, shorts, old basketball shoes and an iPhone. "In every country, we dropped more of our stuff. I ended up with this T-shirt, and that's about it."
Most difficult part of the journey: Climbing the mountains of Macedonia with a toddler and a baby. "With every step you take, you risk your life. There are lots of people taking advantage of other people. We still can't believe we're doing this. We ask each other, 'Are we alive? Are we really doing this?' But I'm not calling myself a refugee. It's just a new life experience."
Hopes for the future: "There's no life anymore in Syria. I had nothing to lose. But Germany is a great country. Business there is so good. When the crisis happened in 2008, the only country that kept growing was Germany."
JUMANA HAIDY, 30 | Damascus to Berlin
I no longer have any hope for myself, but maybe for my son.
Traveling with: Her 3-year-old son, Mohammed. They are making the trip to join her husband, who has already applied for asylum in Berlin.
Days on the road: 20.
Carrying: A yellow-and-red blanket from her home in Syria. A fanny pack with her passport and travel documents. One broken cellphone. A plastic bag with diapers and two pacifiers for her son.
Most difficult part of the journey: "The hunger was the hardest part, and my fear for my child. We traveled out of Syria with bad smugglers in Lebanon and Turkey. They did not feed us. They did not give milk to my son. One time, they did give us bread, but it had been near gasoline and smelled. They did not treat us as humans."
Hopes for the future: "I no longer have any hope for myself, but maybe for my son. Maybe by doing this, he will do better than I did, than his father did. We only want security, to live in a place of peace. Yes. That is what we want. Peace."
MARAH BABILI, 19 | Damascus to Germany
I’ve had [the doll] since I was a child. I couldn’t leave her behind. Now she’s a refugee, too.
Traveling with: Her cousins’ family, including a five-month-old baby.
Days on the road: 12.
Carrying: Clothes, pink sneakers, water, an iPhone 6+ and a white Hello Kitty plush doll that turned gray with dust during the journey. "I've had her since I was a child. I couldn't leave her behind. Now she's a refugee, too."
Most difficult part of the journey: "Sitting on the streets and getting hungry at the border between Greece and Macedonia. We almost got mugged."
Hopes for the future: "There's no future in Syria. We're not safe there. You can't even go to college and get your education. I'm supposed to be in university now. Germany is the best for studying and building your life. I'm hoping it's worth it in the end."
MUSTAFA HAJ YAMAN, 19 | Aleppo to Germany
I want to go back to Syria. There are so many people there, wounded. I want to help them.
Occupation: High school student, wants to study medicine.
Traveling with: A cousin and friends.
Days on the road: 23.
Carrying: Very little. His backpack fell overboard on the sea trip from Turkey to Greece, so he lost almost everything. In Greece, he bought a new backpack, one T-shirt and one extra pair of pants.
Most difficult part of the journey: The Greece-Macedonia border crossing. "The police chased us and we got lost in the woods. We slept on the dirt, and there were snakes and other animals. We had no food or drink for two days. It was so difficult, so difficult."
Hopes for the future: "I hope to study in Germany to become a doctor. I want to go back to Syria. There are so many people there, wounded. I want to help them."
MARWAND DEEP, 35 | Damascus to Germany
I felt fear, and panic, like I have never felt before.
Occupation: Fitness trainer.
Traveling with: Most of his immediate family, including his parents and siblings.
Days on the road: 18.
Carrying: A small green bag with spray deodorant, a pair of fake Ray-Ban sunglasses, an iPhone 4 and a charger.
Most difficult part of the journey: "Crossing the sea from Turkey to Greece. The boat was too full! There were 35 people, and children, on such a small raft. The waves were big, so big. We almost fell overboard; many of our things did. I felt fear, and panic, like I have never felt before."
Hopes for the future: "Germany is my future. It will decide what my future is. I hope it decides to give me one."