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By Boat, By Bus, By Any Way Possible: One Refugee's Perilous Journey


As part of our coverage of the refugee crisis in Europe, we've been following a teacher from Syria. He's been trying to escape the Syrian war and find a new home in Germany. On Tuesday, we met him on the Turkish Coast just before he crossed the sea to a Greek island. Reporter Joanna Kakissis caught up with him in mainland Greece in the port city of Piraeus.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The ferry docks after a 12-hour trip from the island of Lesbos. Hundreds of refugees walk out. I spot Munzar Omar in the crowd. He's wearing a tan cap with Greek letters and a black T-shirt and he's holding a backpack. He smiles.

Munzar, hi. Nice to meet you.

MUNZAR OMAR: Nice to meet you, too.

KAKISSIS: How was the trip?

OMAR: It was very nice.

KAKISSIS: Munzar was a teacher back in Hama, a city in west-central Syria. He's married and he has two little girls, they're 1 and 3. He thought of his family as he crossed a rough sea from the Turkish Coast to Lesbos at night in a tiny inflatable raft.

OMAR: I thank God for not to bring them with me - maybe die at any minute, any second.

KAKISSIS: Munzar and the others on board made it to a rocky shore on Lesbos, an island where more than 30,000 refugees have landed this month alone. He waited in a crowded camp there to get temporary papers then took the ferry out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: Now he and two families from his hometown are trying to get to Germany. Their next stop on this long journey is northern Greece to cross the border into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. They have to take a bus to get there but they don't know where or when to take it.

OMAR: We are so confused about the time of the journey.


OMAR: We are so confused.

KAKISSIS: That's a problem.

OMAR: No one knows the details. Just go, go, go.

KAKISSIS: Munzar says they're in a rush to head north. They've heard the Hungarians are trying to close their borders. And even if he gets across, he's worried that the police there will fingerprint him so he can't move on.

OMAR: Hungaria (ph) is a poor country in Europe. You can't live in Hungaria.

KAKISSIS: You're afraid you're going to get stuck there?

OMAR: Yeah. (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: As Munzar and the families try to find a bus to take them north, a man shows up on a motorbike and says he can arrange transport. But then a group of Greek bus employees chase the man away and the scene becomes chaotic.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICEMAN: Shut up, shut up. Let me explain to you now.

KAKISSIS: A young policeman shows up and speaks to the group. He explains that the bus they were about to board is a scam. These buses are dangerous, the policeman says. The drivers have sometimes robbed refugees and left them in the middle of nowhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: ...Our bus.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICEMAN: What time? Do you have ticket?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Yeah, yeah.

KAKISSIS: Eventually, Munzar and his friends buy tickets for about $50 on a legal bus run by the Greek state. It will take them to the border with Macedonia.

It's almost midnight. Munzar boards and waves goodbye. He says he'll text me from his journey.

OMAR: Maybe if I have Internet, OK, I will just keep talking to you if you're not asleep. Thank you.


OMAR: Bye.

KAKISSIS: Munzar makes it through Macedonia and he's now in Serbia. His next challenge is to get to Hungary, where we hope to meet him again. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Piraeus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.