Most of all, the young Syrian wanted his dignity. “At least in Europe, I will feel that I have rights,” Mohammed al-Haj told The Associated Press.
The 26-year-old embarked on a 2,500-mile (4,000-kilometer), 14-day odyssey to reach his dream, joining an historic movement of humanity: More than 600,000 migrants and refugees who crossed land and sea to reach Western Europe this year.
Mohammed’s life was wrecked by the civil war in his homeland. His home city, Aleppo, turned into a hellish battle zone between government and rebel forces. In 2012, The Associated Press first met him as he volunteered at a front-line hospital in the city. In 2014, he fled with his family to Turkey.
Mohammed’s journey to Europe in September chronicles the deeply personal aspirations that drove him and many others. He was convinced he deserved better than a life trapped as a refugee in Turkey. Pointing to the future of Europe as it absorbs the wave of migrants, he spoke of how he wanted to be a productive part of society.
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The dream of a normal life sustained him through all the obstacles. Across the Aegean Sea where others like him had drowned. Through miles of walking under hot sun. Through rain and muddy fields, crowded train stations and long bus rides, lack of sleep, confusion, impatience, exhaustion, fear and anger — a barrage of every emotion, except one. Never despair.
Here are a series of photos by AP photographer Santi Palacios following Mohammed’s journey from Aleppo to Germany.