Desperate Honeymoon

A month after getting married, Sayid and Amira sold everything and fled the war in Syria.
Their honeymoon was a perilous journey to Europe.

Story by Ray Furlong

In many ways, they lived normal twentysomething lives.

Sayid, 27, was a sales manager at a computer company in the Syrian capital, Damascus. Amira, 20, taught kindergarten and was a student of Arabic literature. In July, they got married. But as Syria's civil war inched closer, the newlyweds made the heartbreaking decision to leave. They set off on August 17, 2015, traveling through Lebanon, Turkey, and then to the Greek island of Lesbos.

Two weeks into their journey, RFE/RL correspondent Ray Furlong met the couple at the Greek-Macedonian border and traveled with them along the so-called "Balkan Route" to Austria. This is the story of their journey.

Part 1


After their arrival in Lesbos, Sayid and Amira make their way via boat to Athens and bus to Greece’s border with Macedonia. They have now been on the road for nearly two weeks. At the border town of Gevgelija, a bus arranged by the Macedonian government will take the group of refugees across the country and up to the border with Serbia.

Part 2

Presevo, Southern Serbia

Sayid and Amira cross into Serbia on foot and enter the small town of Presevo, where they wait for papers that will allow them to stay temporarily in Serbia. Tired and sick from traveling, many of the refugees receive medical attention from aid charities. Sayid and Amira are sleeping in a rudimentary refugee camp, in their own tent.

Part 3


They make their way by bus to Belgrade, a city overwhelmed by refugees and migrants. The crisis has turned the city’s open areas into makeshift camps. After weeks on the road, Sayid and Amira manage to find a little respite: a night at an inexpensive hotel recommended by a friend who has passed through the city earlier.

Part 4

Kanjiza, Northern Serbia

Sayid and Amira stay briefly at a brand-new refugee camp in the Serbian town of Kanjiza, close to the border with Hungary. For the thousands of people that pass through, the camp is a welcome relief from sleeping rough in parks or on the streets. A volunteer says that before its construction, conditions were harsh. “Babies were kept in pizza boxes,” he says.

What's Hungary's border fence with Serbia like?

The fence, completed in September 2015, was built by a team of contractors and 900 soldiers at an estimated cost of $111 million.

Part 5

The Hungarian Border

The couple sneaks across the border at night -- and, this time, avoids being processed by the authorities. For many like Sayid and Amira, the camps feel like prison. People complain of mistreatment by the authorities and fear they will be sent back. At a camp in Roszke, Hungary, some refugees try to escape. In the meantime, Sayid and Amira travel by taxi across Hungary and then into Austria.

Part 6


After three weeks on the road, Sayid and Amira finally arrive in Vienna, where they’re warmly received by volunteers. The couple are being housed in a refugee camp just outside the capital and decide to claim asylum in Austria. While their 3,000-kilometer trek to safety has ended, a new journey is just beginning.