Khaled’s journey took 12 straight hours to transit from Lattakia to Idleb, his first stop before attempting to reach Europe — even though the distance between the two governorates does not exceed 90 kilometres.
Moving in the opposite direction from Idleb governorate, northeast of Lattakia — Khaled, 19 — began his journey by moving south to Homs, accompanied by the smuggler and three other young men wanted for compulsory service in the Assad regime’s army. The smuggler had brought together the trio with Khaled, all of whom sought to leave behind desperate circumstances and secure a better life for themselves.
“Journey between two countries”
In detailing the “arduous” journey, Khaled explains that the group did not stop at any security checkpoint and never had to show their identity cards. “It is clear that there is an agreement between the smuggler and soldiers at military checkpoints along the road,” Khaled told Al-Souria Net. “The route was strange. We went to Homs and from there to Hama. Next, we crossed into rural Aleppo from desert roads and passed through a lot of military checkpoints (within the regime-controlled areas). We then reached the city of Tadif, where we arrived at night. Finally, we waited until dawn to cross into National Army-controlled areas, where we were handed over by another person dealing with the first smuggler.”
Khalid adds: “We were stopped at the Deir Ballout crossing for hours and interrogated about our trip and the way we came, before eventually being released. I feel like we’ve moved from one country to another because of the hardship and difficulty of this journey.”
The cost of this trip between two Syrian regions, less than 100 km apart, has reached $1,100 per person, according to Khaled. He confirmed that many of his friends and acquaintances are waiting for money to travel.
Crossing point to Europe
In recent months, the number of arrivals from regime-controlled areas to areas in northwestern Syria outside regime control has increased, according to Mohammed Fakhoury, an activist in Idleb.
Fakhoury attributes the trend to several factors, most notably the economic conditions and compulsory military service campaigns. These factors fuel the desperation of young people to leave, which leads them to think about migrating to Europe. For this journey, areas controlled by the Syrian opposition are the first step, followed by many additional legs — often taking them from Turkey to Greece and then onwards to many countries in the European Union.
According to an activist in the city of Jableh, human smuggling operations are carried out through people associated with influential officers on the Syrian coast. The smugglers facilitate the travellers’ passage through checkpoints for sums ranging from $ 1,000 to $ 2,000, depending on the degree to which the traveller is being pursued — that is, if they are a defector or not.
“Dozens of dissidents and wanted people have come out of Jableh and Lattakia in recent years through these networks. This migration route is also necessary for civilians and young people who are not being pursued because it is considered the best way to reach Europe,” the activist said.
The security branches are familiar with these networks but have completely condoned the matter for many years. Reasons for this complicity may be that the security officers receive material benefits, or it adds to the strength and power of the officers working on the matter, he said.
There are other ways for young men to get out, he said, including heading to Aleppo city if they are not wanted by the government. From there, they agree with smugglers to arrange passage to Tadif for less money, around $500.
Although opposition-held areas also suffer from poor economic conditions, some young men in regime-controlled areas prefer to go there to work and settle down, as is the case of 27-year-old Muayyad from Lattakia.
The young man settled in the city of al-Bab in rural Aleppo after receiving an invitation from an acquaintance in the area to come and work as a blacksmith.
While the phenomenon of tens of thousands of Syrian youth seeking access to Europe is not limited today to specific areas in Syria, the trend has recently increased for emigration from regime-controlled areas. In these regions, many seek to avoid conscription into the regime’s forces, as well as escape abhorrent economic and service conditions, low wages, and rising living costs.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.