Zain al-Abideen Majid’s father lifts him over a coil of glittering razor wire in the moonlit darkness of a Serbian farm, stretching to hand the boy to a relative on the other side.
Though Zain is only 4, this is by no means his first surreptitious border crossing, and he remembers his father’s admonition at the very start of their journey, when they slipped from their homeland of Syria into Turkey: Don’t make a sound, or the guards will beat us.
On this night, as Zain is passed over the wire from Serbia into Hungary, the barbs rip two bloody gashes in his right shin, like the flicks of a scalpel.
He stays silent.
Zain was born in Syria as the fighting there was beginning. Ever since, he and his extended family have been living in the shadow of conflict, surrounded by a chaotic mix of fear, threats, extortion and kidnapping.
This summer, Zain, his father, Ahmad Majid, and a band of determined relatives — eight adults, including Zain’s pregnant mother, and five other children, a baby and a toddler among them — became part of a remarkable chapter in human migration.
Over nearly two months, the family journeyed from Syria through Turkey and eight European countries, through much of the trip not even sure of a destination. The group was cheered and cursed, encountering the best of Europe, and the worst. They endured exhaustion and despair, stranded for five days in a train station in Budapest and imprisoned in Denmark with seemingly no hope of moving forward. And they had moments of triumph, outwitting border guards and benefiting from the camaraderie of fellow travelers.
“It’s better than dying,” says Ahmad.
To read the full story, please see the extraordinary interactive report by the New York Times.