After fleeing war-ravaged Syria, waiting in Turkey, passing through a Greek island and traversing the mainland last year, Fahd al-Mekki and his family reached the Idomeni, a crossing into Macedonia, only to be turned back.
Macedonian border guards denied the family passage, telling the 53-year-old father that Jobar, his hometown near Damascus, was a safe area and denied them passage.
Jobar has been the site of many battles and more than five years on since the start of the Syrian war, it is unrecognisable in a state of ruin.
Inside Syria’s War: Arms and Resistance in Jobar (Part Two) – People and Power
Mekki’s wife and three children eventually made it to Germany with the help of smugglers more than a year ago, but he remains stranded in Athens, the Greek capital.
“My house was one of the first homes destroyed in Jobar,” he remembered, his eyes welling up with tears as he recalled his flight from the civil war that has engulfed Syria for more than six years.
Mekki, who owned a shawarma restaurant in Syria, is now camped out and on hunger strike with 13 other Syrian refugees who are protesting the sluggish family reunification process.
They say they have each waited more than six months to be reunited with their families, are calling for expedited relocation to Germany.
Of the hunger strikers, half are women who have been separated from their spouses.
The group first announced their open-ended fast on November 1, when they set up tents and signs on a busy pavement near Syntagma Square in central Athens, across the street from Greece’s parliament.