Making a stop in Serbia, part I: The killer journey

Every day, hundreds of refugees enter Serbia. Most of them hope to cross to Hungary and eventually reach the West. But Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans arrive only to get stuck at the border. EURACTIV Romania reports.

This small state with European aspirations is simply overrun. The refugee centres are full. The streets are full. Downtown Belgrade looks like a post-war zone.

Tatjana works at Save the Children, in the Serbian capital. She has seen many things, more than most of us can handle in our entire life time.

Several days before we met her, a Syrian woman gave birth. The baby is healthy and very relaxed. Tatjana, however, is not. She fears for the refugees. As the winter approaches, she knows that most of them will find shelter in old abandoned warehouses, surrounded by garbage, without windows, with old roofs waiting to collapse on their heads.

We visited them in November, but in January, snow and frost struck Belgrade with a force unseen in the last decade. The landscape was transformed into a post-apocalyptic work of fiction, a frozen hell, with hundreds of people shivering in the cold, wrapped in blankets. Taking a bath has become an extraordinary event, outside, in sub-zero temperatures, in heated barrels.

From Syria to Bulgaria, part I: Escaping death

Some years ago, an ambitious Kurd from a village in northern Syria won a scholarship to study abroad. He ended up in Havana, where he learned Spanish. Elias later returned to Syria, where he became a translator at the state news agency, SANA. EURACTIV Romania reports.

No one knows how many the refugees have gotten through the winter.

Europe has no clear plan yet. All over the continent, in buildings flying EU flags, time moves at a different pace.

What kind of cases do you have at the centre?

Tatjana: At this moment, we have a 3-day old baby with her mother in the corner (the mother and baby corner of the Asylum Info Centre). The baby was born in Belgrade. This is a family from Iraq. They have been travelling for a long time and the woman was pregnant during the journey. She gave birth when she arrived in Belgrade. Her family was here, with our team, while she gave birth.

She gave birth here?

She gave birth in a hospital and her family was here, with the team. When they learned that she successfully gave birth, and that the mother and baby were both feeling well, the family celebrated, dancing and singing, and they also brought some sweets and juice to share with the team. So, even in these difficult circumstances, life goes on and beautiful things are happening.

The woman who gave birth is very fortunate, because not everybody feels well after arriving in Belgrade, after this terrible journey.

Today, we had another woman travelling from Syria. She is 8 months pregnant, but her baby is actually not well. The family travelled across the sea. They boarded a rubber boat in Turkey, to to Greece, but the boat turned over and three of her children died. She continued her journey to Greece – while being pregnant – with the only child left and her husband.

After spending a couple of months there, they arrived in Serbia, but… There are consequences to these terrible events. Actually, the baby is not feeling well. The doctors will have to terminate her pregnancy. So, the woman had to leave for the hospital. Our team helped her to get to the hospital and the husband and the child are accommodated in an asylum centre, near Belgrade, in Krnjaca.

From Syria to Bulgaria, part II: 'Now, I am a teacher in Sofia'

Elias now lives in Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria – a country that when it first greeted him was not at all prepared to receive and care for him and the many others like him. EURACTIV Romania reports.

What about the others?

Most of the people who are now arriving in Serbia are in very bad shape. They arrive wearing dirty clothes, with pain in their bodies, with scars, because they travelled through woods. Many of them have scars on their faces and bruises on their hands.

We can see that many of the people who arrive need medical assistance. They can get it in Micksaliste, or in the regular Serbian hospitals.

What we are seeing now is a huge problem with body lice and scabies. These people have been traveling for a long time, or they have stayed in camps for many months in bad conditions in terms of hygiene. This has become a serious issue in Belgrade, especially with the population that is staying out in the open.

Over a thousand people – mostly men – are staying in the park and in abandoned buildings close to the train station. They don’t want to leave the park because they want to stay close to the smugglers, because they rely on smugglers to take them across the border. Many of them are ill.

The worst thing is that there are many children among over a thousand people who are sleeping outside, and they are very vulnerable. Those are the ones who need support and help.

The refugees and the migrants who arrive in Serbia are now staying here for a longer period of time, but most plan to continue their journey. From the beginning of the crisis, this has been the case.

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