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Reuters: Syria receives huge shipments of “looted” Ukrainian grain.

Baran Ramadan Meskou had been holed up with other migrants for weeks in the Algerian port city of Oran, waiting for an opportunity to take a boat across the Mediterranean to Europe.

Days before the 38-year-old Syrian Kurdish set out on the trip, he received news that a smuggling boat carrying some of his friends sank shortly after leaving the Algerian coast, drowning most of the passengers.

It came as a shock, after spending weeks arriving in Algeria from Syria and then waiting a month for a smuggler to put him on the boat.

But after spending thousands of dollars on the trip, and with his wife and two daughters aged 4 and 3 relying on him for a life safe from conflict, the engineer boarded a small fishing vessel with dozens of other men and took a group selfie to send home to their families before the phone connection failed. .

After a 12-hour overnight flight, Musko traveled to Almeria, Spain on Oct. 15, then traveled to Germany four days later, where he is now an asylum seeker at a migrant camp near Bielefeld.

Still used to the cold and using a translation app on his phone to help him navigate as he learned German, he said he hoped his paperwork would be sorted soon so his family could join him.

Camp of Syrian immigrants in Europe

reasons for the increase

Years of conflict and economic turmoil have left their mark on Syria’s northern regions, which hold an estimated 3 million people under de facto Kurdish control.

The area has been targeted by Islamic State militants, Turkish forces and Syrian opposition groups from the opposition-controlled enclave in the country’s northwest.

Climate change and worsening poverty have also led to cholera epidemics in recent months.

Like Moscow, many of the migrants are from the Syrian town of Kobani, which made headlines seven years ago when Kurdish fighters withstood a brutal siege by the Islamic State.

The city was left in ruins and “not much has happened” since then to try to rebuild, said Joseph Zahir, a professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, adding that most of the development funding has gone to the cities of the east.

Recent events in northeastern Syria have given its residents yet another incentive to leave.

Turkey has stepped up its attacks on Kurdish areas of Syria after a shelling in Istanbul in November killed six and injured more than 80.

Ankara blames the bombing on the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and US-backed Kurdish forces, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) in Syria, both of which have denied responsibility.

Since then, Turkish airstrikes have hit areas of northeastern Syria, including Kobani, further affecting already battered infrastructure, and Ankara has promised a ground invasion.

Bozan Shahin, an engineer from Kobani, recalls a Turkish airstrike last month.

Shaheen said: “I watched my mother trembling with fear as she carried my 4-year-old sister in her arms to keep her calm.

Now he wants to join the influx of Kurds heading from Syria to Europe.

“I have some friends who found a way to get to Lebanon through a smuggler and go somewhere through Libya,” he said, “I’m not aware of all the details, but I’m trying to see how I can do this trip in safety. .”

Immigrants face difficult conditions

the disappearance of immigrants

At least 246 migrants went missing trying to cross the western Mediterranean to Europe in 2022, according to the International Organization for Migration.

In recent years, thousands more have died on the perilous sea voyage.

Musko is one of a growing number of Syrian Kurds making the journey to Europe, a tortuous route that includes journeys by car and plane through Lebanon, Egypt, Libya and Algeria, and finally by ship to Spain.

They say they chose this ring road because they fear arrest by Turkish forces or Turkish-backed militants in Syria if they try to infiltrate Turkey, the most direct route to Europe.

According to data from the European Union’s border agency Frontex, no fewer than 591 Syrians crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Algeria and Morocco to Spain in 2022, six times last year’s total.

A Syrian Kurdish smuggler in Algeria said dozens of Kurds from Syria arrive every week in the Algerian port city of Oran on a sea voyage.

“I’ve never had numbers that high,” the smuggler told the Associated Press.

Bribes to Syrian soldiers

Migrants and smugglers said the operation, which takes weeks and costs thousands of dollars, is being run by a network of smugglers who bribe Syrian soldiers to let people pass through checkpoints where they can be held for draft evasion or business antigovernment, and then across the porous border into Lebanon.

There, migrants usually stay in crowded apartments in Beirut for about a week, waiting for urgently needed passports from the Syrian embassy through the intermediary of smugglers.

Passports in hand, they travel to Egypt, where Syrians can enter visa-free, then take another flight to Benghazi in war-torn Libya before making the journey to Algeria via yet another smuggling network.

Difficult conditions

“We got into pickup trucks and jeeps and they took us through Libya via Tripoli and the coastal road, changing cars every 500 kilometers or so,” Musko said.

While traveling across the desert, they had to pass through checkpoints manned by various Libyan armed groups.

“Some of the guards at the checkpoints treated us horribly when they found out we were Syrians, taking our money and phones, or making us stand outside in the heat for hours,” he said.

Misko said an armed group kidnapped the migrant group that had left before him and demanded $36,000 for their release.

When they reached the Algerian city of Oran, Miskou was relieved to take refuge in an apartment run by smugglers.

As they waited for weeks, he and the other migrants spent most of their time inside.

“We couldn’t move freely in Oran, because the security forces are everywhere and we didn’t enter the country legally,” Maskou said, adding: “There were also gangs in the city or even on the coast trying to smuggle migrants and take their money.”

Immigration detention

Human rights groups have accused Algerian authorities of detaining migrants and, in some cases, expelling them across land borders.

According to the UN refugee agency, Algeria expelled more than 13,000 migrants to neighboring Niger to the south in the first half of 2021.

Though he is relieved to have arrived safely in Germany with the ability to take his wife and daughters there, Miskou regrets leaving Kobane.

“I’ve always been against the idea of ​​emigration or even displacement,” he said. Whenever we had to move to another area due to the war, we returned to Kobani as soon as possible.”

Miskou spends most of her time in asylum interviews and court hearings, but says she’s in a good mood knowing she’s launched a trial she’s dreamed of for months.

He hopes to obtain refugee status soon so that his wife and daughters can be reunited with him in Europe.

“Syria has become a hotbed of war, corruption and terrorism,” he said. We’ve been living like this for 10 years and I don’t want my kids to have these experiences and see all the horrors.”

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