She had already walked for 60 hours through the damp and dark forests of Poland, trying to make her way to Germany, when the 29-year-old Syrian Kurdish twisted her knee.
This was not the first setback of Bushra’s trip.
Earlier, his traveling companion and best friend had passed out in a panic attack as Polish border guards pursued them. They hid in ditches and behind trees while her friend tried to catch her breath, but it wasn’t good. They surrendered and the guards sent them back across the border to Belarus.
They returned quickly, scruffy and wet, on the same path. After twisting her knee, Bushra persevered. For two more days, she dragged her right foot behind her through the rain and freezing temperatures of the forests. Finally, they reached a Polish village where a car took them across the German border – for a life she hopes will be free.
“I endure the unbearable pain. Running away from something is sometimes the easiest thing, ”said Bushra in the town of Giessen, in central Germany, where she sought asylum as a refugee. “There is no future for us in Syria.”
Bushra, who has asked that his last name not be disclosed for her own safety, is the face of the new Syrian migrant. More Syrians are leaving their homes, even though the 10-year-old civil war is over and the lines of conflict have been frozen for years.
They are not fleeing the horrors of war, which drove hundreds of thousands of people to Europe in the massive wave of 2015, but the misery of the consequences of war. They have lost hope for a future at home amid abject poverty, widespread corruption and destroyed infrastructure, as well as continued hostilities, government repression and revenge attacks by several armed groups. .
More than 78,000 Syrians have applied for asylum in the European Union so far this year, a 70% increase from last year, according to EU records. After Afghans, Syrians are the second largest nationality among the 500,000 asylum seekers this year to date.
Nine out of ten people live in poverty in Syria. About 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, a 20% increase from the previous year. The government is unable to meet basic needs and nearly 7 million people are internally displaced.
Roads, telecommunications, hospitals and schools have been devastated by the war, and widening economic sanctions make reconstruction impossible.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the worst economic crisis since the war began in 2011. The Syrian currency is collapsing and the minimum wage is barely enough to buy five pounds of meat a month, if even the meat is available. Crime and drug production are on the rise as militias, backed by foreign powers, stage contraband rackets and control entire villages and towns.
The numbers are well below 2015 levels, but desperate Syrians are rushing to get by. Social media groups are dedicated to helping them find a way. Users ask where they can apply for work or scholarship visas. Others ask for advice on the latest migration routes, the cost of smugglers and how risky it would be to use supposed identities to leave Syria or enter other countries.
At the same time, Syria’s neighbors, grappling with their own economic crises, demand that refugees on their soil be sent home. Among the new migrants to the EU are Syrians leaving Turkey or Lebanon, where they had been refugees for years.
Belarus briefly opened its border with Poland to migrants this summer. This has created an impasse with the EU, which accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of orchestrating illegal immigration in retaliation for European sanctions against him.
Bushra was one of several thousand people who made it through Belarus, where 15 people died trying to make the trip.
She left Erbil, Iraq, for Minsk at the end of September.
It was the start of a trying journey. Bushra recounted how they survived for days on cookies and water and how six of them slept sitting on a single dry carpet. Her friend broke a tooth while shaking with cold.
After the ordeal of the forest, they had to hide in a ditch at one point when a police patrol with sniffer dogs came to check their car. Driving along the highway, Bushra removed her headscarf to avoid suspicion at checkpoints. She reached Giessen on October 12.
“I was amazed at the way I put up with it all,” said Bushra.
It was all worth it, she said. “When you lose hope, you follow a more dangerous path than where you started. ”
Bushra’s life in Syria had been turned upside down for years. She was at Deir el-Zour University in the east of the country when war broke out in 2011 and anti-government protests spilled over into the city. She quickly moved to another university further north. Soon Deir el-Zour and the rest of the east were taken over by the Islamic State group.
Bushra and her parents were outside the IS regime in the Kurdish-held northeast, but still lived in fear of violence. She barely left home for two years.
Eventually, she found a job with an international aid group. She has since saved up to leave, checking the roads out of Syria.
Oil-rich northeastern Syria, which already suffered from years of neglect, has been devastated by war. The drought has destroyed the livelihoods of farmers. The collapse of the currency devastated income. The salary of Bushra’s father, a government employee, is now worth $ 15 a month, up from $ 100 at the start of the war.
In addition, the region was not secure. IS militants were defeated in 2019, but sleeper cells continue to target Kurdish-led security and civilian administration.
Eight kidnappings were reported this summer in a town close to her.
Threats were made against Bushra after she exposed a corruption case involving powerful local officials, causing her to fear for her life. She declined to give details as her family remains in Syria.
The harassment accelerated her intention to leave and convinced her parents, who were worried that a single woman would undertake such a trip alone.
The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan this summer has raised concerns in Bushra that the US is also withdrawing its 900 troops from Kurdish-administered northeastern Syria. The troops conduct counterterrorism operations with local forces, and their presence also keeps rival forces at bay.
If they pull out, she fears that Turkey, which views Kurdish-led forces in Syria as terrorists, could launch a military campaign against the Kurds. Syrian government forces are also said to be on the move, endangering Bushra as they see as traitors those who work with international aid groups not registered in Damascus.
“If I stay in Syria, I will be pursued by security all my life,” she said.
Obtaining asylum and residence in Germany is his gateway to freedom.
She hopes to study political science to understand the news, which she boycotted since the start of the war to avoid the scenes of the atrocities she was already experiencing. She wants to have the freedom to travel. “I’m done with the restrictions,” she said.
Returning to Syria is impossible, she said. If she doesn’t get her papers in Germany, Bushra says she will keep trying.
“If I can’t go where I want to go, I’ll go where I can live.
El Deeb reported from Beirut.