As Europe Closes Door To Refugees, Tough Choices For 2 Fathers : Parallels Thousands are stranded in Greece, on what they'd hoped would be the road to a new life. "I cannot provide for my family," says one father of young children.
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As Europe Closes Door To Refugees, Tough Choices For 2 Fathers

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As Europe Closes Door To Refugees, Tough Choices For 2 Fathers

As Europe Closes Door To Refugees, Tough Choices For 2 Fathers

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The wars in the Middle East have forced millions to flee their homes. And once they leave, many face a series of excruciating choices. Joanna Kakissis reports on two fathers at a makeshift camp in northern Greece who are weighing their options.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The large, white tent in this dirt field near the village of Idomeni is filled with exhausted families resting on foldout cots.

On one, a burly man in his early 40s cradles an infant with chubby cheeks. Moyaad Saad and his daughter Zahara are from Iraq.

MOYAAD SAAD: (Through interpreter) This little one cries only for two reasons. She either wants me to change her diaper or she needs fresh air. I wash her clothes. I make sure her bottle is full of milk.

KAKISSIS: Zahara is just 6 months old. Normally, she'd still be nursing. But Saad's wife, Shereen, is in Sweden with their four older children. He explains how they got separated.

SAAD: (Through interpreter) We left Turkey on two different boats. The smugglers put my wife and four of the kids on one boat. Zahara and I got on the second boat. At sea, the Turkish police stopped our boat, but not the one my wife was on.

KAKISSIS: Saad's wife arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos in late January and proceeded north. But by the time he and the baby managed to make the sea crossing weeks later, European borders were closing. Saad and Zahara got stuck here in Idomeni.

SAAD: (Through interpreter) I spoke to the United Nations Refugee Agency and the Greek police about my situation, but they said too many people want help.

KAKISSIS: Sweden, where his wife and older children have now settled in, has suspended family reunification. So Moyaad Saad is faced with a dilemma - stay here and pray that the border will open or go to a camp run by the Greek army and wait for another solution.

Nearby, crouching inside a small green tent, a father from Syria is cleaning up his 4-year-old daughter's vomit. Fatma got food poisoning after eating a rotten egg. Her dad Hassan Bekali is just 36, but his hair is white and his blue eyes are bloodshot from lack of sleep.

HASSAN BEKALI: (Through interpreter) I look around and see no choice, but humiliation. I can't feed my children. I can't send them to school. I can't find a place to wash them properly, so they're not dirty. I keep asking myself, how is this going to end?

KAKISSIS: Bekali and his wife Maha are here with Fatma and her brothers, 6-year-old Ahmad and 1-year-old Hamza.

BEKALI: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: Bekali wanted to go to Germany, which he had heard wanted to help Syrians.

BEKALI: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: We did not risk our lives and pay so much money to live in misery in a camp, he says.

BEKALI: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: Look at my son's wound, he says. He points to a bandage on his 6-year-old son's head. Little Ahmad explains how we got hurt.

AHMAD: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: I was hungry, and I saw a truck with bananas, he says. I ran after it. The boy fell and hit his head and bled profusely.

BEKALI: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: As Hassan Bekali listens, he breaks down and says, I cannot provide for my family. Days after this conversation and after weeks of agonizing about whether to stay on the border on the chance it would open up, the Bekali family gave up their dream of going to Germany. They boarded a bus for an army-run camp near Athens. They decided to take their chances on resettlement anywhere in the EU, though, they have no idea where or when.

SAAD: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: Moyaad Saad, the Iraqi with the infant daughter has decided to wait it out near the Macedonian border. He sings to baby Zahara, hoping he can soon take her to her mother in Sweden.

SAAD: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: He's staying put, despite the miserable conditions here and despite the Greek government's threats to clear out this makeshift camp. He says we do not want to be forgotten.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Idomeni, Greece.

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