#Humanity Suits You Best

Epic Escape is not a real fashion brand selling expensive “destroyed look” clothing. Nor are the models really models, but refugees. Here they share touching stories of their escape from Syria.

We are promoting a greater understanding, more respect and empathy for refugees to encourage the willingness to help them. By using imagery of the fashion industry, we appeal to good interpersonal style: #humanity suits you best.


of his dear ones
killed in the Syrian War.

najd

I have always dreamed of seeing the Eiffel Tower – but not like that.

Not from a park bench, on which I had to lie at night in cold wet weather surrounded by rats. Not after a long and tough escape from Syria to Europe. Paris was my low point although I had experienced worse things before.

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    A stranger in your own country

    If you can’t change anything, you have to go … The situation in the country did not allow any changes. The war destroyed everything. Not only was it life-threatening – you couldn’t get a job and even if you did, you didn’t earn enough. You couldn’t live in a future-oriented way, but only from moment to moment.
    As if the war wasn’t enough, I was discriminated against by my fellow countrymen because my roots lie in Palestine. Although I was born in Syria and lived in Damascus, that didn’t matter to them. “You aren’t from here!” they shouted. What they really meant was “You don’t belong here“. It hurt me deeply and that is when I decided to leave the country.
    The search for hope gets buried when you realize there is nothing there anymore.
    At the time Damascus wasn’t a contested area yet, but there were nevertheless air raids on the outskirts of the city, and we could see the explosions. But after some time, life-threatening situations became more and more frequent.

    Air raid

    Once I was in the Old City with a friend. There were lots of lovely restaurants and shisha bars. We had just smoked a pipe and drunk something and were on our way back by foot. Suddenly bombs fell. I could hear all the bomb splinters. I could have died at that moment. We just ran off, didn’t look back. Main thing was to get away!
    I have lost five people from my circle of friends and family in the war.

    My decision

    My cousin was the one, who announced to me and my family that he wanted to flee. My brother refused to leave because he wanted to finish his masters at university first. By the way, he has fled to Hamburg in the meantime.
    One of my sisters is now in the Netherlands and the other stayed in Damascus with my parents. I, on the other hand, wanted to join my cousin at once. We didn’t think about it too long. In two days he wanted to march off. I took a rucksack, packed a jacket, a pair of trousers, T-shirts, pullover. I imagined that it could become cold.

    Our escape

    My cousin knew a smuggler, who took us to Turkey. There we went our separate ways. My cousin decided to travel via Greece. I, on the other hand, wanted to take a boat directly to Italy. For many this is not understandable. But for me it didn’t make a difference whether I travelled alone or with a companion. I make the decisions for myself and my life. Travelling alone enables me to react to situations according to what I personally feel is the safest way.

    On the open sea

    From Turkey I got into a boat with 300 people with Italy as our destination. Unfortunately the smugglers fooled us. They didn’t take the direct route, but stopped over in Egypt and acted as though they were buying provisions for us there. Instead, they took along even more people! That was very risky: If the coast guard had picked us up, we would have been sent back to Syria and we would have been finished. There was hardly any space to move on the boat. You could only stand or lie down.

    There were no washing facilities – only toilets, but you couldn’t even call them that. The water on board was terrible. I couldn’t drink it, the first time I tried it I threw up at once. There was hardly anything to eat, only just enough food to keep us alive. Once, someone on the boat ate an orange – what wouldn’t I have given for it!

    Distress at sea

    Then there was another stopover without consultation by the smugglers! This time in Libya. There we changed boats. The first boat was made of metal, therefore to some extent safe. But the second boat was made of wood and only intended for about 100 persons. However, there were definitely 150 persons on board! On top water flowed inside and was pumped out again with an engine. If that engine had broken down, the boat would have completely filled with water.
    It was so dangerous … And when the boat did actually fill up, we contacted the Italian coast guards. They said that we should return to Libya because we were nearer to Africa than to Italy. That was no option! We would have been robbed or even murdered on the Libyan coast. So we just continued travelling towards Italy. Then our salvation: The Italian coast guards informed us that a large cargo ship was on its way to the USA and would make a detour to save us! And so it did.
    Just imagine: The smugglers had claimed that it would only take seven hours with the wooden boat. Even with the giant cargo ship it took 1.5 days! If we would have remained in the wooden boat, we would never have reached Italy alive.

    Shore leave at last

    Once I had firm ground under my feet again, I immediately had to inform my parents that I was still alive. I had been out on the high seas for altogether 14 days without reception.

    In Italy I took the train to Nancy/France. From there on I continued to Paris. There I had to spend the night on the street because there were no trains at night. The police would have picked me up in the train station. Those who know the police in Syria are afraid of every policeman. They should be avoided at all costs. The same thing happened to me in Amsterdam where a friend then fetched me at last and took me with him.
    My whole journey from Damascus to Hamburg took two months.

    Here I am

    Currently I am concentrating on learning German, so that I can make progress. I would like to develop myself and my talents further and create more opportunities for myself in the future. And finish my economy studies!

    What remains are the memories and the humour

    How do I cope with all those experiences? For example I always tease my cousin “What did the Turks do to you when they caught you at the border?” I try to make funny stories out of my experiences.

    „humanity suits
    you best.“

minutes surviving
a bombing attack at uni.

Yara

I arrived in Holland with only a dress and pyjamas.

Because we threw away the rest of our luggage in Austria, so that we wouldn’t be recognised as Syrian refugees. Today I wish I had kept those clothes because it would have been a memory – although one of bad times, but a memory nonetheless.

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    The war at home

    When the war started and the first bombs fell, I just couldn’t believe it at first. After a few months I got used to it. When I heard a bomb blast, it didn’t bother me that much anymore because it meant that it hadn’t hit me. After a bombing raid, everything around you comes to a halt. On some days you can’t leave the house at all. I sometimes saw dead bodies and injured people in front of my house.

    At some point, my sister and I couldn’t go to university anymore because it was too dangerous outside. After three years I had to discontinue my chemistry studies. I remember one heavy bomb attack on the university. We went into the air-raid shelter and waited for about an hour. Nobody knew whether it was safe to leave the building. Everyone was responsible for themselves. A few stayed, others took the risk and left the building. I was among them. Luckily nothing happened to me. In this life-threatening situation I felt nothing, just acted rationally.

    So many dead people

    Another time, there was a very heavy air raid on our street. So many people died – we couldn’t count them anymore. Everyone was frightened that it would happen again. We couldn’t go back and stay in our house anymore because everything was cordoned off. We were only able to salvage some clothing and important documents. We had to leave all our other things behind, and go and stay with friends.

    Our escape

    When it became too dangerous in Damascus, I fled with my mother, my sister and my brother. Us women had to wear hijabs when we crossed areas controlled by ISIS. We attracted attention and were asked, “Why are you out and about without a man?”
    My little brother didn’t count as a man, he is only 12. However, we didn’t let ourselves be discouraged.
    We wanted to reach the border. There was a road that led to Turkey. We were only half an hour away from the border on this road. We hid there for two days. During that time we wanted to wait for the right moment to get past the guards and the Turkish army. We tried several times but were caught each time and had to go back. The guards were not allowed to harm anyone, only imprison them for 24 hours. But they beat us. As we were running towards the border crossing the last time, my sister fell onto the barbed wire and cut herself badly! Suddenly the guards were surprisingly kind and helped us over the border.

    After a week in Turkey we finally found a contact man, who gave us a place on the rubber boat for a fee. We were lucky: others have drowned on their journeys or taken much longer. After three hours at sea, we arrived in Greece.

    We then went to the Macedonian border by bus. From there we walked – with about so many other people!

    The line was incredibly long! Together we walked through most of Macedonia. Guards showed us the way. For seven hours we travelled in a completely overcrowded train to Serbia. It was tough and exhausting. The men were standing most of the time, the women were sitting. We took turns in between. During the last two hours our bodies felt numb.

    We were not allowed to enter at the border to Serbia – there we tried to trick the guards. There was a high mountain and we walked around it the whole time. We slept out there in sleeping bags with many others. We spent 1.5 days there. It was a nightmare, I just couldn’t sleep. Then I noticed a man lurking about near us. I had already heard terrible stories of armed men, who attacked sleeping refugees and robbed them. So I woke up the whole group and made quite a commotion. Several men grabbed him and searched him. And that man was actually carrying a knife – obviously he had intended to do something to us. The men in my group chased him away. I still couldn’t fall asleep after that.

    Final sprint

    We didn’t want to flee via Hungary as we knew about the terrible things that happened to refugees there. We found a man, who took us to Austria by car for 1100 Euros per person.
    You have to understand that these people are members of the mafia – you have to pay a lot of money. If something goes wrong, you don’t get your money back. We had to crouch the whole time in the car and act as though we were sleeping – for eight hours. He was completely panicky that they would catch us. When we arrived in Vienna he quickly shooed us out of the car, “Go! Go go!” he shouted after us. We didn’t know where to go. But we knew someone in Vienna, who booked us a train ticket to Germany. My mother definitely wanted us to go to Holland after that because we have relatives there. 

    Is Holland our home now?

    Even after one year: to be at home is a different feeling. I didn’t want to meet anyone here, I already have friends in Syria! I dreamed of going back to the old Syria. The way it was before the war. Every day I think about the people I love, who are still in Syria. I am so worried about them – this is why I can’t lead a normal life in Europe.
    These thoughts made me depressive for a while. But now I feel better.

    Thank you!

    Our aid project is great. Making people think about what they can do.
    I hope we’re successful with this. I know we can do it!

    „humanity suits
    you best.“

years surviving
the Syrian war.

Somar

I can hardly believe that I managed to escape. It’s crazy…

But I had nothing more to lose. When the war broke out I was in shock and only concentrated on survival. You are left to your own fate and never know when something will happen. The danger is always there. You don’t behave normally anymore, because you are living in fear.

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    That is no life

    You survive, but it’s no life. Some didn’t survive: Friends from my university, people from the neighbourhood and some of my childhood friends were killed in the war. I have lost them forever.
    I remember 2014 well: That was the year in which I was supposed to be drafted for military service, so I left my homeland.

    Where can I go?

    My first station was Dubai where my mother lives. I didn’t receive a residence permit, so I continued my travels to Beirut and then to Turkey. I stayed there for a while and worked in a café. Again I was neither permitted residence nor got a work permit. Living somewhere illegally is really no way of living. You can’t work and you have no insurance.

    My escape

    I escaped with a friend and took the Balkan route. It was a tough journey, which was very stressful and including a lot of suffering. The weather was icy cold. We are not used to such temperatures in Syria. Some people had lost their luggage along the way and had nothing warm to wear. We helped and lent them clothes.

    helpless and no rules

    In northern Turkey there is a big swamp area with a river named Evros flowing all the way to Greece. We travelled along the river in a rubber boat. When we arrived in Greece the police were already waiting for us. It was really tough for me, because I had never been in jail before. It was horrible and cold in there. Five days in total. You could not drink the water. They tried to cooperate with us, but then they shouldn’t have treated us like that. After prison we spent seven days in a refugee camp. NGOs helped us to cross over borders a lot. We travelled partly by foot, partly by train from Greece right through Macedonia. In that country the police were especially brutal and beat people. I found that terrifying because we were so helpless. You couldn’t just go ahead and tell the police what was right and wrong. There were no more rules. I was so lucky that I didn’t get hurt.

    At daybreak we set off on foot through Serbia, where the morning dew really made us feel freezing cold.
    In Croatia we waited 12 hours for the bus to arrive. We continued through Slovenia by train. When we arrived in Austria they were about to close the borders. The situation became dangerous when the mass of people started panicking and everyone pushed and shoved. Amongst us were kids who nearly got crushed! We tried to push the people away from the children. At last we reached Austria. From there we travelled to Germany. I am permitted to stay in Berlin for one year.

    My new home

    My first impression of Germany? It’s extremely cold here. When I arrived there was a lot of snow, but I loved it! We don’t have winters like that in Syria. I got to know Germany during the Christmas season. I love the Christmas markets and the “Glühwein”!

    What remains?

    After the war you question your whole life. All the big plans that you once had can be shattered really fast. But now I do have plans again! I am running a café in Berlin with some friends to promote cultural exchange. We want to motivate people to enter an open dialogue and to work on a solution for the Syrian conflict. It is important to me to learn the German language and to start a professional traineeship as a barista.

    My Future

    My motivation keeps me from having dark thoughts. I can let go of the past by doing something good. Gradually I am feeling better and more stable.
    Sometimes I suffer from flashbacks and nightmares from the experiences. Then I concentrate on today and my hopes for the future.
    I could have died at the time – but I am alive and that means something. That I can do things.

    „humanity suits
    you best.“

times he survived
a terrorist attack.

Feras

My favourite memory of home: hanging out with friends and drinking tea in the Old City of Damascus.

I wish those days would return but it is not possible.
Most of my friends have died – I buried many of them with my own hands. The others have disappeared or left the country.

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    Living in terror

    It was too dangerous for us young people in Damascus. I am so sad about it, but I had no choice. I had to flee. There was panic and fear everywhere. Terror was ever-present. There could be gun battles or bombings at any place or time. Life was unbearable. Every-thing became more and more expensive, and we didn’t have access to supplies any more. With this constant fear, life became a nightmare.

    Escaping death

    It feels like only yesterday. I can’t forget that feeling of terror nor the sound of bullets shooting past my ears.

    Once I was in the car with my father at a security checkpoint in Damascus. Suddenly there was shooting coming from all sides. We had landed in the middle of a gunfight!
    The bullets just flew all around our heads. It is a miracle that we managed to come out of it alive. We escaped death. Without physical injuries but with a trauma.

    ISIS

    Another day I was standing in front of my father’s workshop. Directly next to a security checkpoint. Three armed ISIS men attacked from within their car. They aimed their machine guns directly at me. The bullets missed my face by only a few centimetres. It lasted about 10 minutes. Such attacks are always quick and don’t last longer than 15 minutes. That area has now become ISIS territory.
    My brother and three cousins have been killed in the Syrian war. They were all in the military.

    The escape

    After that, I couldn’t bear it there anymore. I simply wanted to get out of Syria, far away, but I didn’t know where to go. First I booked a flight to Turkey. A friend warned me not to stay there because it isn’t a safe country.
    So I chose Germany. I only had a small bag with me and had no idea that it would become so cold on my journey…

    My escape route

    From Istanbul I went on to Izmir. There, a smuggler took me to Greece in a rubber boat. 1.5 hours on the open sea with 41 people in the boat, including eight children. Although I can swim, I was so terribly afraid. The waves were incredibly high. We could have sunk! It was extremely dangerous.

    Fear and paranoia

    When we at last arrived in Greece, I stayed there at a refugee home for a few days and took the ferry to Athens and then continued up to northern Greece. I spent two nights at the border to Macedonia. I couldn’t sleep there at all because I was enormously afraid of Serbia.

    It is known that members of the Serbian mafia steal, kidnap or kill for organs. Whenever I saw tall, dark men I thought that they were planning to murder me. I was full of fear and paranoia. The mafia knows that we refugees carry a great deal of cash with us. We had to hide it very well. I was really scared of this.

    Together we are stronger

    I had of course fled all alone, without family or friends. As it is safer to travel in groups, I joined up with 40 other men. We walked along in Serbia for two days, five hours of which were in the darkness through the forest. We couldn’t see anything at all, but couldn’t use any light, otherwise the guards driving past would have caught us. We walked through a high cornfield. I thought I would have to die because we lost our orientation and walked around in circles again and again.
    On the way we were threatened by three armed men, who wanted us to give them 1000 Euros. We didn’t have that much money, so they got ten Euros off each one of us.

    When we reached a village, we took a taxi to Budapest. It is dangerous in Hungary because the police there search for refugees intensively. I had to avoid attracting attention while searching for the contact man, who was supposed to drive me to Austria with the car. I found him and we drove to a small village near the German border. I then travelled to Hamburg by train. There I couldn’t continue my journey and wandered through the city throughout the night. If I had slept somewhere, I would have been picked up by the police.

    Sleepless

    Since Serbia I hadn’t slept at all: 33 hours! I had lost quite a lot of weight during that time. The fear and exhaustion wore me down physically and mentally. There hadn’t been much food to eat. Only small snacks, like sandwiches, biscuits, coke, water – no proper food. The entire escape lasted 11 days. I am now in Berlin.

    My future in Berlin

    I find it interesting to learn about German culture and understand it. Unfortunately I couldn’t complete my studies of German literature. I would like to do a traineeship as a lighting technician and am therefore doing work experience at a theatre in Berlin.

    My family has moved to Libanon in the meantime. I am the only one who fled to Europe. I have a small daughter, whom I contact regularly. Because of the war, I haven’t seen her since her birth… I had to leave her behind.

    „humanity suits
    you best.“

minutes awaiting
death.

Rina

Perhaps it was my destiny to come to Germany.

Nobody leaves their home just like that. But then you reach the point at which you cannot live normally anymore – everything is blocked. You can no longer leave your house, go to university nor to work because it is too dangerous. Suddenly you find out that people you know have died.

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    My Turning Point

    I moved from Damascus to As-Suwayda because it was safer there at the time. There, I experienced something that changed my life completely:
    I was in a building that was under attack. I saw people die with my very own eyes. There is nothing you can do in such a situation. I awaited my own death. For 35 minutes. I thought about everything that had happened in my life up until then. Once the attack was over, people left the building. Nobody said a word. Two children were playing outside, in the midst of this catastrophe. It broke my heart. An experience like that shatters you and becomes a wake-up call. My conclusion after this: To live is so important. I knew that I had to leave the country, and that I had to take my little sister with me.

    Travel Preparations

    We asked friends for advice on what we should pack for our journey: only the bare essentials because you have to be able to carry everything over long distances. In addition to clothes, important documents, certificates, and medication. Each one of us brought one backpack.

    our escape

    My sister and I used all means of transportation to escape: we travelled by foot, train, car, plane, and rubber boat. You cannot plan ahead but surrender to the situation and start walking. Without a destination. We inquired about our options here and there – our travel route resulted from there. We were luckier than others because we had the support of NGOs during our trip. If it had not for been for them, crossing the borders would have taken so much longer.

    The Danger of the Open Sea

    Our rubber boat almost capsized on route from Turkey to Greece – it was very dangerous.
    The boat was open and it was raining. We were about 55 people – too many for the boat! This was a risk we all took, rather than staying on shore. The boat’s motor broke down at some point. A friend of mine managed to fix the engine.
    It was heart-breaking that even babies were on board. People flee with their entire family. Once we ran out of fuel, we called the Greek coast guard – they were unable to help us, though, because we had not reached their waters yet. We had driven around in circles for two hours because the captain had lost all orientation! Usually, the boat trip takes one hour. We reached Turkey after over eight hours. From there, we continued on the Balkan route.

    We Helped

    Me, my mister and two friends from university tried to help others during our journey because we are young and able! We carried elderly people’s bags, for example. In Hungary, we met a family that included a wheelchair driver. They all really suffered on this trip.
    So my sister and I could not just leave them behind. So we accompanied them. We had to cross small streams and built little bridges for the wheelchair user.
    I carried the babies of young mothers. Because they had no energy left to do it themselves – day and night, they had been travelling by foot – they were completely at nerve’s end. The clothes I had been wearing, especially my shoes, were falling apart when I arrived in Austria. I threw them away. I had walked lots of kilometres with them, even through mud.

    My New Home

    I live in Berlin now. I was really fortunate – I have met other Syrians who had more hardships to overcome than we did. Some were travelling for three or even six months and had to live like homeless people or lost their entire family.

    Due to the war, I was unable to complete my art studies. I cannot continue my studies in Berlin either because I do not speak the language yet. Currently I am studying German and attending an integration course. I am living with friends. When I think of my home in Syria, I cherish the memories I have of the yoga centre where I taught both adults and children. I miss my students so much.

    I Want to Do Something

    I just simply don’t want to sit around and suffer, but rather help my country instead. I cannot join the fighting – so I want to spread love and help others instead. I practice a lot of yoga and offer free classes to support people here.

    Refugees in Germany

    The refugees you meet here may seem relaxed and happy on the outside, but they are under a lot of stress on the inside and have been seriously traumatised. I support this campaign because it supports us. Ever since I arrived here, I have noticed how many of the other refugees suffer. They really want to interact; they want to become part of society! This campaign is helping us with that.

    „humanity suits
    you best.“

hours lost on
the open sea.

Ghaith

Everyone knows what is happening in Syria.

It’s one thing if you hear about the war on TV and it’s definitely another thing if it suddenly affects your own life and takes away your friends forever. It’s a really hard blow. I experienced the war, for instance gas attacks and attacks at the university.

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    My trip was cold

    In Turkey I had to wait for my place on a rubber boat for a long time in a forest in the middle of nowhere. Like many other refugees I took a very simple rubber boat to Greece. The smuggler said it would only take us 1,5 hours maximum. The truth is, it took us six or seven hours because we kept getting lost. I wasn’t wearing the right kind of clothing. They had told us to only take absolute basics. It was as cold as autumn in Berlin – however I was only wearing a T-shirt. It was so damn cold … We didn’t have enough food on board. And the boat was overfull and far too heavy.

    And now Germany

    I have been in Germany for a year. What I remember upon my arrival was that Germany won the world soccer cup over Brazil – I didn’t like that so much, because I support Brazil!

    I worked as a translator for some journalists and they also wanted to publish my own story. I only want to share my story in order to help other refugees and create awareness. However I can’t talk about my past in great detail. And I don’t want pity from anyone, for these are just experiences that I’ve had and that give me the strength I need to help other refugees.

    Without work I was already bored after one week. That’s when I began to become involved and active, e.g. with “Über den Tellerrand” (engl.: beyond one’s own nose”). It’s a project in which we publish cook books with recipes from our home countries. What was really cool: I cooked together with president Joachim Gauck!

    My future

    Of course I want to continue my architecture studies, but I have to restart all over again at the university in Potsdam. I am already learning German so that I can study quicker and better.

    Chances for refugees

    If people are uneducated they probably won’t be very open to us and will echo what TV shows say about us in a bad way. I don’t want people to help us out of pity, but because they want us to excel and achieve something in this society. We don’t have the same possibilities as Germans. This we would like to change. I keep my eye on that when I work for charity organisations.

    „humanity suits
    you best.“

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#HUMANITY SUITS YOU BEST

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