A look at one young Syrian refugee's journey through Europe

  • Syrian children light a fire to warm up at a former military base in Harmanli, Bulgaria, set up as a refugee camp for asylum seekers fleeing the Syrian Civil War. 
  • Syrian refugee Mohamad al-Masalmeh, 21, is seen in Harmanli, Bulgaria, with his friend Omran Alhariri, 26. Both men come from Daraa, in Syria.
  • Two youths hold a flag displaying an ancient Bulgarian symbol popular among young Nazis, during a protest against the presence of refugees in Harmanli, Bulgaria, 2014.
  • A soccer match on a makeshift field in a refugee camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria, where about 1,500 asylum-seekers are detained, Dec. 2013. Most are Syrian Kurds who illegally entered Bulgaria through Turkey.
  • Syrian refugees wait to to give their fingerprints to Bulgarian authorities so that they can leave the refugee camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria, and continue their search for asylum in other European countries. 
  • A barber in a former Bulgarian military base that was turned into a refugee camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria. 
  • A view of containers supplied with funds allocated by the European Union at a refugee camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria. 
  • Children look through a window as a Syrian family sings traditional Kurdish songs in the refugee camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria, 2013.
  • Syrian refugee Hany al-Masalmeh, 23, trains in a makeshift gym inside a refugee camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria, with his cousin Mohamad and friend.
  • Rasheed, a former tour guide in Damascus who fled the Syrian Civil War in 2013, shows his roommates in a refugee camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria, a picture of a girl killed by Assad’s army a few days earlier. 
  • A Syrian family outside one of the containers in a former Bulgarian military base that was turned into a refugee camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria, 2014.
  • Syrian refugee Omran Alhariri, 26, who fled from Daraa, Syria, is seen inside a refugee camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria, where he has been living for five months.
  • Syrian Kurd refugees prepare for the celebration of Newroz, a traditional Kurdish celebration, in Harmanli, Bulgaria.
  • Some Syrian children seeking asylum are seen playing at Harmanli refugee camp. Harmanli, Bulgaria 2014.
  • Two Syrian refugees fix a window in a room in a refugee camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria, where they have been living for four months.
  • Mohamad al-Masalmeh, 20, tries to call his family in Syria, while his friend Omran Alhariri, 26, drinks coffee in a refugee camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria, where they have been living for five months, March 2014.
  • Syrian refugee, Mohamad al-Masalmeh, 21,  is seen taking pictures inside the refugee camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria, where he has been living for more than a year. His cousin used to work as a freelance journalist for Al Jazeera, but was killed in Syria. Mohamad hopes to become a journalist like his cousin.
  • A girl lies on the ground in her mother’s arms in Harmanli, Bulgaria, after she was hit by a policeman during clashes between police and refugees. Asylum seekers organized a protest after an official visit of the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Anna Cecilia Malmstrom, who explained that with their Bulgarian documents they would not be able to leave Bulgaria, according to the Dublin Regulation. 
  • Refugees inside a building at the Harmanli refugee camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria, 2014.
  • Syrian refugee Mohamad al-Masalmeh, 21, is seen inside a bus after crossing the border between Bulgaria and Romania. He escaped and travelled illegally on his own from Bulgaria to Germany by paying a human smuggler that showed him the route to cross the border between Romania and Hungary, as many others Syrians did before him. Mohamad walked for six hours through snow-covered forests near the Danub river, then took a train and finally arrived in Germany.
  • A view of the Harmanli bus station in Bulgaria, where many refugees start their journey to reach Sofia and then move on to other european countries. .
  • Syrian refugee Mohamad al-Masalmeh rests in a hotel room in Sofia, Bulgaria, before continuing his journey through Romania. 
  • Snow-covered cars in Bucharest, Romania, 2014.
  • Mohamad al-Masalmeh, 21, enjoys a winter snowfall in Bucharest, Romania, before continuing his journey Germany.
  • Mohamad al-Masalmeh, 21, looks at a document he received from the German police regarding his current immigration status, Dec. 2014.
  • Syrian refugee Mohamad al-Masalmeh counts money he received from his sister to pay a human smuggler to help him cross illegally between Romania and Hungary.
  • Mohamad al-Masalmeh travels on a bus to meet his cousin in a refugee camp in Warstein, Germany, 2014.
  • Syrian asylum seeker Mohamad al-Masalmeh, 21, hugs again his cousin Hany after illegally traveling through Europe to join him in Warstein, Germany, 2014.
  • A Serbian asylum seeker runs while playing with friends inside a refugee camp in Warstein, Germany, 2015.
  • Syrian asylum seekers Mohamad al-Masalmeh and Hany al-Masalmeh take a self portrait of themselves in a room in the refugee camp in Warstein, Germany.



Mohamad al-Masalmeh, 21, is one of 2.5 million Syrian refugees. After his cousin, a freelance reporter for Al-Jazeera, was killed by a sniper in his Syrian hometown, the young man decided to start documenting the brutal events happening in his country. He dreams of becoming a reporter like his cousin.

Syria has been involved in a civil war since March 2011. Since then, hundreds of thousands of lives have been taken, and millions of Syrians continue to be displaced from their homes as the war stretches on in the country.

Photographer Matteo Bastianelli of Rome, Italy, began following al-Masalmeh throughout his journey from Bulgaria to Germany beginning in December 2013. Aiming to highlight the problems with immigration and analyze the consequences of the war in Syria, Bastianelli spent three weeks in the refugee camp with the young man. For another three weeks, he followed al-Masalmeh’s journey across Europe. Bastianelli last saw him in January when he started his application to be granted asylum in Germany.

“For me it is important to understand how political-social instability of our time is undermining the traditional concept of reception and the right to political asylum for refugees fleeing from a conflict,” Bastianelli told msnbc.

WATCH: Syrian refugees struggle to survive

Bastianelli plans to return to Germany this spring to document al-Masalmeh’s daily life there. He said he hopes the public can witness the refugees “from another viewpoint, placing them in a setting of great history, not as an indistinct flux of immigrants who invade European countries, but rather as the umpteenth fringe victims of man’s brutality.”

The photographer described his experience following al-Masalmeh as “shocking.”

“He is just a 21-year-old guy and he is experiencing something bigger than him, far away from his country and his family,” he said. “That’s really shocking.”

Bastianelli also is working on a documentary film, “Taqsim — Here, but somehwere else,” which follows al-Masalmeh’s journey to Europe.

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography