The stark numbers continue to arrive in our daily headlines: 5 million refugees fleeing Syria since the Arab Spring began there in 2011, 1,000 a day arriving by sea to the Greek islands. Germany and Sweden are swamped with new arrivals, while Hungary closes its borders. Nine hundred refugees cram onto a fragile boat that capsizes in the Mediterranean, trying to reach Italy. Seventy suffocate in the back of an Austrian truck. A drowned toddler washes up on a Turkish beach. The world looks on these people and describes them as everything from opportunistic job seekers to desperate asylum seekers, but nothing stops the flow of refugees. Who are they?
In The New Odyssey, journalist Patrick Kingsley, an award-winning migration correspondent for the U.K.’s Guardian, chronicles the journeys of the people behind the numbers. Hashem al-Souki is Kingsley’s reluctant Homer, forced to leave Syria in 2012 to escape imprisonment, torture and death. He hopes to lead his wife and three sons to a secure future in Sweden.
Kingsley provides Hashem with a camera and a journal. The story that unfolds is intimate, terrifying and ultimately heroic. Along the way are ruthless smugglers, corrupt politicians, courageous locals, dedicated international aid workers, surprising mercies and deep despair. Facebook pages like “The Safe and Free Route to Asylum for Refugees” and GPS markers are the new lures and travel guides—if there is cell service and a way to charge a phone. Friends and families left behind must pay smugglers they cannot trust.
Three years later, Hashem is still wondering what the future holds. His journey is a sharply etched reflection of the disparate refugee policies of the European Union, Canada and the U.S. The future it foretells may be what Kingsley calls “an abdication of decency” in a humanitarian crisis not seen since World War II.