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Episode One: No Choice
Episode Two: By Air or By Land?
Episode Three: The Balkans Trek
Episode Four: Welcome to the EU
Episode Five: Reunion
Episode Six: The Backlash

"THE JOURNEY" (2016)

For 31-year-old Aboud, seeking asylum in Europe is the only way the Syrian father can reunite with his wife and two children. The only problem is getting there. I spent one year with Aboud as he set out on a grueling and uncertain journey from Istanbul to the Netherlands, when he would become one of the pioneers of what would be known as the “Balkan route.” Meanwhile, his wife Christine and their children prepare to leave their home in Damascus for a new life in Europe.

Watch the entire six-part series below with subtitles available in English, Spanish, French, Turkish, Greek, and Arabic >>>


"The Journey" on

Interview with Matthew Cassel in The Intercept

Review and interview on

Second Annual Global Migration Film Festival Concludes as ‘The Journey’ Wins First Prize


Directed, produced, filmed and co-edited by Matthew Cassel

Edited and co-produced by Olivia Dehez

Filmed in Syria by Simone Safieh

Executive producers: Laura Poitras, AJ Schnack and Charlotte Cook

In 2013, Aboud came to Istanbul in search of work with the hope that he could bring his family from Damascus until the war in Syria ended and they could all return home. But Aboud found it was impossible to earn a living for himself, let alone a family of four. Unable to return to Syria, his only option was to seek asylum for him and his family in the European Union. But first he had to get there. 

Aboud made four failed attempts to leave Turkey by land, twice to Bulgaria and twice to Greece. Each time he managed to get cross the border illegally but he didn’t make it far before being detained by border guards, roughed up, and forced back to Turkey. He began to lose hope when, in May, 2015, someone offered to help him pay a smuggler to cross the Aegean Sea and reach the Greek islands in a rubber dinghy. Aboud knew the dangers involved, but by that point he had exhausted all other options. And so they set out in the middle of the night and after a two hour voyage reached the island of Pasas as the sun began to rise. From there he registered with the police and continued to Athens, but the journey wasn’t over. 

“Greece is just a stopping point for the Syrians that make it here,” Aboud said. His main target was northern Europe. At that time there were two main options for getting there: either by plane with a fake ID or by land through the Balkans. Aboud wanted to try his luck at flying, but when his brother make the same boat trip from Turkey and arrived to Athens with a single mother and her two young daughters, Aboud changed his mind. “When you go by plane each one is on their own, but by land we’ll all be together,” Aboud said. And so Aboud and other Syrians in Athens organized their Balkans trip, in what would be one of the first groups to pioneer the route without using smugglers to guide them. 

Eventually, Aboud and his group of 150 Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans, Yemenis and others, would walk for days, take trains and illegal taxis, even bicycles, to reach their final destinations. For Aboud that was the Netherlands, where he received asylum and immediately applied for family reunification. It was finally approved in December, 2015, and we follow his wife, Christine, and their two kids, as they say goodbye to family in Damascus to reunite with Aboud at Amsterdam airport after nearly three years apart. Months later we revisit Aboud and look at a changing Europe, which is becoming increasingly polarized around the more than one million people who sought asylum there in 2015. 

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