On the day of his son's fourteenth birthday, Hashem al-Souki lay somewhere in the Mediterranean, crammed in a wooden dinghy. His family was relatively safe--at least for the time being--in Egypt, where they had only just settled after fleeing their war-torn Damascus home three years prior.Read more...
On the day of his son's fourteenth birthday, Hashem al-Souki lay somewhere in the Mediterranean, crammed in a wooden dinghy. His family was relatively safe--at least for the time being--in Egypt, where they had only just settled after fleeing their war-torn Damascus home three years prior. Traversing these unforgiving waters and the treacherous terrain that would follow was worth the slim chance of securing a safe home for his children in Sweden. If he failed, at least he would fail alone.
Hashem's story is tragically common, as desperate victims continue to embark on deadly journeys in search of freedom. Tracking the harrowing experiences of these brave refugees, The New Odyssey finally illuminates the shadowy networks that have facilitated the largest forced exodus since the end of World War II.
The Guardian's first-ever migration correspondent, Patrick Kingsley has traveled through seventeen countries to put an indelible face on this overwhelming disaster. Embedding himself alongside the refugees, Kingsley reenacts their flight with hundreds of people across the choppy Mediterranean in the hopes of better understanding who helps or hinders their path to salvation. From the starving migrants who push through sandstorms with children strapped to their backs to the exploitive criminals who prey on them, from the smugglers who dangerously stretch the limits of their cargo space to the volunteers who uproot their own lives to hand out water bottles--what emerges is a kaleidoscope of humanity in the wake of tragedy. By simultaneously tracing the narrative of Hashem, who endured the trek not once but twice, Kingsley memorably creates a compassionate, visceral portrait of the mass migration in both its epic scope and its heartbreaking specificity.
Exposing the realities of this modern-day odyssey as well as the moral shortcomings evident in our own indifference, the result is a crucial call to arms and an unprecedented exploration of a world we too often choose not to know.
The plight of the Syrian refugees
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.