© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
World

Migrants Find European Land Trek As Treacherous As Mediterranean Voyage

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The desperation of migrants from Africa and the Middle East is apparent in the risks they are willing to take to escape violence and severe poverty. The journey across the Mediterranean Sea is often deadly. But the journey over land can be just as treacherous, as Joanna Kakissis found recently in Macedonia.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Mahdi and Alireza Mohebi left their home in Mashhad, Iran last summer, when Mahdi was 16 and Alireza was 13. The brothers, both slight with short, spiky dark hair, were born to refugees who had fled the Taliban in Afghanistan. But in Iran, they were second-class citizens, Mahdi says.

MAHDI MOHEBI: How we can live in Iran, you know, when you cannot go to public school, when you cannot work?

KAKISSIS: So their mother told them to go to Europe. Take care of your brother, she told Mahdi, as she handed him the family's meager savings. The brothers traveled to Turkey, then paid smugglers for passage to the Greek island of Samos. Greek police shipped them to a detention camp in northern Greece that Mahdi described as a prison.

MOHEBI: Many, many times, my brother cried in prison. And I just tried to calm down him. But I myself started to cry. And after that, he tried to calm me down.

KAKISSIS: They were eventually released because they were children. This April, with their cash running out, they joined a group of Afghans trying to walk across the Balkans. Their first stop was Macedonia. They would follow the train tracks to Serbia. They walked single file on tracks perched high above two ravines. You can see the train tracks from the highway. My guide is 18-year-old Ana Marija Farkas from the nearby town of Veles.

Do you know anybody from town who would ever go down there and walk?

MOHEBI: No, no because it's real - the track is really thin. And when the train comes, it comes with a very big speed. And you don't have the time to react. Everybody knows that, and nobody goes there except the refugees.

KAKISSIS: Walking becomes even more perilous when the tracks go over a bridge. That's where Mahdi and Alireza Mohebi were walking when a gang accosted them, demanding money.

MOHEBI: And when they started to come to us, the train came from the back of them.

KAKISSIS: Mahdi raced back off the bridge. He thought he felt Alireza behind him. He heard the terrible screams of those who did not make it back. He wandered through the night, looking for his brother. In the morning, he made it into Veles and told police about the accident.

MOHEBI: They didn't care about it. They deported me that afternoon.

KAKISSIS: Back to Greece. Mahdi's now made it to Germany, where he spoke to me by phone. But his brother's body remains in Macedonia, buried with 13 other victims in a mass grave. Mahdi blames himself for not grabbing his brother's hand.

MOHEBI: Because I was older than him. He was too young. He was just 14 years old.

KAKISSIS: Mahdi called another brother with the terrible news.

MOHEBI: After that, my mother called me - called me. She said that it was the gift that God gave us, and he take it back.

KAKISSIS: He cannot stop thinking about his little brother.

MOHEBI: My youngest brother always said that we have to continue our education. We have to - we have to have a good future.

KAKISSIS: Mahdi's determined to honor Alireza by making a new life. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.