Nine months ago, after the Syrian army razed his neighborhood, Mohammed was desperate to make his way to Germany.
Now he is desperate to go back to Syria because his wife and eight children can't get out. But he fears the only way he can return is the same way he came — illegally.
Mohammed, a farm worker from the outskirts of Damascus, is one of at least hundreds of Syrian refugees who want to go home, often because it's taking too long to bring their families here. But in an unlikely twist, they are finding themselves stuck in Europe.
While Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers get financial support and organized plane trips to go home, the German government and the International Organization for Migration say they can't send Syrians back to a war zone. There aren't even flights from Germany to Syria because of the brutal civil war there. And neighboring countries that initially took in the bulk of the Syrian refugees have all but closed their doors; Turkey has introduced tough visa requirements, and Lebanon is refusing to take Syrians who left illegally through Turkey.
That leaves little hope for the dozens of Syrians per week who have requested departures since the beginning of this year, according to travel agents and case workers at migrants' return programs.
"I came here only for the future of my children," said Mohammed, who did not want to give his last name because he is afraid the Syrian regime will harm his family. "If they're not here, it makes no sense for me to be here."
A stocky man with tired eyes who looks much older than his 45 years, Mohammed first came to Germany because his children could barely survive on the boiled grass their mother cooked for them. So he paid smugglers to take him across the Mediterranean on a shaky dinghy and trekked up the Balkans, in the hope of quickly finding a job and then bringing his family in.
He got asylum in March. But his wife calls him every day, crying and begging him to come back home. She doesn't have any money to feed their seven daughters, and their only son, 12-year-old Marwan, quit school to sell vegetables on the market.