'The modern Underground Railroad'

By Michael Walsh
Runaway Slaves
They walked thousands of miles in someone else’s shoes.

Journalists Sophia Jones and Hiba Dlewati traveled thousands of miles with refugees for three weeks in August across seven countries: Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Germany.

Jones, the Middle East correspondent for the WorldPost, says she encountered compassionate people dedicated to helping those on the risky trek to safe haven in Western Europe, comprising a "modern-day Underground Railroad." At times, these acts of kindness stood in stark contrast to government inaction that has afflicted many countries amidst the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

“At times, it was difficult to maintain journalistic distance and make sure our presence didn't harm the refugees with whom we traveled,” Jones said to Yahoo News via email. “We made sure to back off when they met up with smugglers, or when close to borders where authorities were looking for refugees.”

She explained that there is a fine line between traveling with a group of refugees and helping them to smuggle themselves, becoming, in essence, a smuggler.

“Even simple things, like telling them about a path we heard other refugees were taking, could determine whether or not they would make it in the end,” Jones said. “It was difficult to withhold such potentially life-changing information.”

The results of their journey from Turkey to Germany, which lasted 21 days, were published in the Huffington Post early Tuesday morning as an immersive multimedia project called “A Thousand Miles In Their Shoes: ‘We Have Stories Bigger Than The Sea.’”

For weeks before the trip, Dlewati, a Syrian-American who was Jones's translator, monitored social media and contacted Syrians planning to travel to Western Europe. Their journey from Turkey to Germany lasted 21 days.

“We spent several weeks beforehand researching, mapping out the route and reaching out to refugees making the trip as well as volunteers helping out along the way,” Jones said to Yahoo News via email.

She said they met others along the way staying in refugee camps, waiting on the side of the road and walking with their families.

Once they returned home, Jones and Dlewati followed up with some of the refugees they met on the road to see how they were settling in to their new homes in Western Europe. One young man from Damascus decided to apply to a university in Paris, and a nine-months-pregnant Syrian woman gave birth to her first daughter in Germany, she said.

“I was constantly in awe at how resilient people were. These are people who have left everything behind to risk death and humiliation to live in a place they've only read about,” she said. “Many people left behind entire families in hopes they would be granted asylum and bring over spouses, children and parents. And yet, when in situations of extreme duress, I often found people cracking jokes and focusing on the things that really mattered — life and love.”

You can learn more about their journey at The Huffington Post.

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