My parents and I arrived in Tel Aviv in 1991 during the gulf war, but sirens indicating running to the shelter at night are nothing in comparison to the horrors that led to a mass exodus in 2015.
Here are the remarkable stories of two stern individuals who crossed the land against all odds:
The first, a woman of 35 traveled with 2 kids (of 8 and 14), along with a family with 4 children.
They started from Syria all together, "the border with Turkey back then used to be mere barbed wire, now it is a solid wall" she says.
They continued by tiny boat with 60 people, unfit for more than 35, suddenly the boat stopped, they turned on a light to find out what had happened, and the Greek coast guard came and took them into Greece.
It was terrifying to see the children in the water, if we had only known how difficult it would be, we would have never started".
From Greece on to Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, all by bus, with the help of the red cross and for a fee, then from Slovenia onward to Germany by train...
Her husband would make an average of 5k before the war, he was a carpenter, the war made his services redundant and they were left penniless, and determined to live a full life again.
Everyone's parents had stayed in Syria, by the Turkish border, in a small Kurdish region.
The second, a man of 22.
A desire to leave started building up at the age of 14 or 15, Europe felt closest, though impossible with a weak passport. Sweden was the destination of choice, but he met a German girl on the way that changed the plan a little.
From Turkey to Greece, with his passport no visa was needed, he had collected money from all relatives, nearly 2k. He made a friend once in turkey.
A Facebook group helped with legal and practical advice. He had also met a man who claimed to take him by boat "only 43 ppl, 100% safe", he wanted 80$, in advance... Facebook suggested that was likely a scam. His pal and he then found another connection, safer. Part of the fee they were told, will be used to purchase a safety vest and a waterproof bag for valuables.
They waited 5h for a car to take them to the boat, afraid the military would come instead and rob them. Finally the driver showed up and what was said to be 43 people were put pressed together in one truck with a single hole for air and nothing to hold onto.
Once outside someone put a life jacket too tight on a baby and he couldn't breathe.. the two boys cut the vest and the baby resumed breathing normally, the horrified parents asked them to stay close and promise to take care of the baby if they themselves don't make it.
The boat had finally been brought, small, made of rubber. They helped inflate it and fix the old engine. The person operating the engine got to ride for free, he was risking 15 years in prison if they got caught, this also meant the person had no experience.
The smuggler watched from the shore and instructed them by phone. There were two islands and they did not know which was Turkish and which Greek, a man pulled out a knife and threatened to punch a hole in the boat if they didnt try the isle he thought was the Greek, a struggle broke and the dwellers of the boat decided against the man's request.
They were 75 people it turned out, and in spite of the difficulties, had reached the Greek shore in a record time of 1h. The guards had nearly caught them, but their boat was too slow.
Next it turned out he was only 4h late at the Macedonian border that had been closed, forcing him to return to Greece and gather further advice.
There he found a demonstrators' camp a crowd who spoke English, from UNICEF, the red cross etc... he joined in and started cooking for the community, where he met his future partner.
He then continued on his own and encountered an accent specialist at the Serbian border, sure they would then find out he is not Syrian and deny entry, he was surprised to find out that the specialist felt sorry for him and let him go.
They were required to name countless things to determine whether they were Syrian: names of schools, streets, souks, monuments, which currency they had, which numbers they'd have to call to reach the police or the fire department...
The trip from Serbia to Croatia and Slovenia was simple, until he encountered another translator and another camp. They took all phones away, it was very nearly a prison. The people they met suggested to hide among a Syrian family and pretend to be sick or asleep. They did not pretend and with their true identities they were allowed to enter Austria.
On the bus to Germany all their papers were confiscated, so they could not escape. They were at the police station for 4 days, were asked to strip to check for marks, so that they'll be easy to recognize in case they commit a crime.
In Munich he had officially applied for asylum. Only 1% of his nationality is granted asylum, mostly dissidents and journalists, the rest are sent back.
Many people he had met on the way still live in camps, which is a form of house arrest.