Sisters Rouba and Rama, whose father lost $1,500 to smugglers. (Tamara Abdul Hadi/For The Washington Post)

They sold off just about everything they could to pay for the expensive smuggling fees to reach Europe — couches, jewelry, children’s clothing. And now these Syrian refugees are still stuck in the misery of Lebanon’s Bourj al-Barajneh camp. After Lebanese authorities turned their crowded dinghy back to shore in August, the smuggler ran off with the money and dashed most of their dreams of a prosperous future on the continent.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of Syria’s more than 4 million refugees are fleeing host countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey to join the exodus to Europe. The exodus appears to be intensifying: The U.N. refugee agency reported that in October alone, a record 218,394 people crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe — about as many as the total from all of last year.

With the arrival of winter weather, aid workers warn, the journey will get riskier.

But many of the more than 1 million Syrians taking refuge in Lebanon are simply too poor to go. Increasingly, they struggle with tightened laws on employment. Their children lack access to schooling. And amid mounting desperation, impoverished Syrians — such as the group living in Bourj al-Barajneh — are falling victim to shady smugglers.

Meet some of the refugees who lost so much on the failed boat ride, and find out what has happened to some of them since then.


(Tamara Abdul Hadi/For The Washington Post)

Faiza Qaja, 37, originally from the countryside of Damascus

Family: Husband and six children

Amount of money lost to smuggler: $1,000.

Her story: She wanted to join up with her 15-year-old son, Abdullah, who secretly left the camp for Europe in early August and is now in Germany trying to claim asylum. After she reached Europe, Qaja had intended to help Abdullah bring over the rest of the family. “Abdullah made the plans with his friends. He didn’t tell us when he left. For days, we didn’t know where he was. I was hitting myself because of the grief. But thank God, he called and told us he was in Germany.”


(Tamara Abdul Hadi/For The Washington Post)

Bassem al-Alyan, 30, originally from Deraa

Family: Pregnant wife and four children

Amount of money lost to smuggler: $1,500

His story: His 3-year-old son, Yazan, suffers from a blood disorder that requires expensive medical treatment. “I can’t afford to pay for his medical costs here. He’s suffering,” he said. “I want to try to reach Europe again, but I don’t have the money.”


(Tamara Abdul Hadi/For The Washington Post)

Hani al-Alyan, 32, another brother of Bassem who also lives in the camp

Family: Wife and three children

Amount of money lost to smuggler: $1,500

His story: He tried to take his 6-year-old son, Mohammed, on the boat, which briefly set off from the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli last month. “They told us we would sail for 48 hours and then land somewhere in Greece, I think,” he said. “They didn’t say where we would be taken. The smuggler gave us a number to call the Red Cross when we landed. That’s all we were told.”


(Tamara Abdul Hadi/For The Washington Post)

Hussein Mansouri, 43, originally from Deraa, Syria

Family: Wife and three children

Amount of money lost to smuggler: Nothing. He made an agreement to settle up after leaving Lebanon.

His story: Mansouri's 3-year-old son suffers from a condition that inhibits his ability to defecate, requiring an expensive operation to treat. “We were told that his operation would cost $27,000,” he said in September. “We can’t get that kind of money here. That’s why we need to get to Europe, so I can work and provide my family with health care, education.”

Hussein has since reached Germany after flying from Lebanon to Turkey in October and then trekking through Europe, his wife in Beirut said. He traveled alone, she said, adding that he plans to eventually bring over the rest of the family.

Read more:

Most Syrian refugees are just too poor to flee to Europe

‘Syria is emptying’