IDOMENI, Greece — A refugee mom says her children are begging to return to war-torn Syria rather than endure conditions in a squalid camp on Europe’s southeastern border.
Fatima Ahmad said she and her family crawled “like snakes” on their journey through Turkey and Greece, ending in the disease-ridden Idomeni camp that has sprung up next to the closed border crossing with Macedonia.
The mother-of-five is trying to reunite with her 13-year-old son, Iham, who is already in Frankfurt, Germany.
“We hope maybe … the governments of Europe do [something] for us,” she told NBC News. “Maybe [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel will give some help to us.”
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She was speaking after European Union leaders held talks in Brussels to try and hammer out a deal to end the continent's worst migrant crisis since World War II. A draft of the deal proposed that Turkey would take back any migrants and refugees who'd made it to Europe from Turkey — but conditions that came with the offer sparked criticism about its legality.
"In Syria, we quickly die … but in this place we die slowly"
The influx prompted European leaders to agree on closing the Balkans migration route — triggering several countries along it to fully clamp down their borders. That has left more than 14,000 people stranded in Idomeni, where disease is rife and fields are used as a toilet.
Fatima’s daughter Arwa, 9, last week became the camp’s first confirmed case of Hepatitis A.
“Help me, please … take me out of this place,” she said. Syria is “better than this place.”
She added: “In Syria, we quickly die … but in this place we die slowly. Animals can’t live this life.”
Fatima’s family left the town of Hasaka in eastern Syria one month ago, fearful of advances by ISIS, and made a traumatic boat journey across the Aegean Sea before advancing across Greek farmland.
They crawled “on hand and foot, like animals,” she said, “sometimes like dogs, sometimes like snakes,” and hid in freezing cold fields to avoid police.
She said: “My children all say, ‘I hate this place, mom. Please return me to Syria.’ Under the guns or the bombs [is] better than to stay in this place.”
Jamieson Lesko has been a London-based producer since December 2010. Her responsibilities have included serving as Bureau Chief in Kabul, Afghanistan, and reporting from Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Kenya, Northern Ireland, Spain, Switzerland, France, Germany and England.
Lesko joined NBC News from MSNBC, where she was an executive producer. In that role, she led her primetime programs through periods of unprecedented ratings growth. During her time at MSNBC, she guided coverage of breaking news stories on location in Israel, Lebanon and Cyprus during the war of 2006, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the London terror bombings and the historic 2008 presidential election.
Prior to her work at MSNBC, Lesko worked at CNN in Atlanta and New York, where she contributed to the network's live coverage of 9/11, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lesko was nominated for an Emmy award for Outstanding Continuing Coverage Of A News Story for contributions to "The Battle For Libya" on "Nightly News With Brian Williams."