Making a stop in Serbia, part II: People helping people

As tragedies unfold, Serbian aid workers talk about the lack of hope among the refugees and their potential for self-harm. EURACTIV Romania reports.

It’s morning. As soon as their eyes open, people make their way from parking lots, parks, and abandoned warehouses. Hundreds of refugees swarm the train station area.

A hundred meters from the station, at the ground level of a multilevel car park, a young Afghan man wakes up. He folds his sheets on a piece of cardboard and goes to a nearby bar to charge his phone. He greets his friends. Some of them ask us, full of hope, if we know when will the borders open.

Around the park tables there are only men. Some have come with their families, but have left their wives and children in centres where they have food and shelter. They communicate over the Internet with each other, or with their families, or with friends back home. They are constantly on the lookout for a way out of Belgrade – a city they would gladly exchange for Vienna or Berlin.

They have many needs and their numbers are growing. Some have tried – five, six times – to cross illegally to Hungary, but very few have actually succeeded. Those who get caught return to Belgrade beaten, full of dog bites, and without their phones, sometimes even without their clothes.

At times, if they are not careful and get tagged for carrying money with them, it is the smugglers who carry them there and back and rob them of their belongings.

Tatjana, the volunteer from Save the Children, continues answering our questions.

What is the attitude among the local population?

Tatjana: Many of the Serbian people know how it is to be displaced, how you feel when you have to leave your home. Because even if they were not in this situation, maybe some member of their families experienced conflict and the civil war, and many refugees arrived in Serbia during the ’90s. So, they can feel for these people.

Both the Asylum Info Centre and Miksaliste (Refugee Aid Centre) are calling for help. People are bringing their clothes, so they can be distributed to refugees.

The average Serbian would support and help the refugees.

This is what we have been seeing in this transit context and we are hoping that this will also be the case if these people will stay for a longer period, or if we will have a number of them who are going to stay as asylum seekers and who will be integrated into society.

What about the government?

The Serbian government was very supportive. From the beginning of the crisis, the Serbian authorities sent a strong message that the refugees are welcome and that they will be supported in Serbia. So, this also helped.

And the media?

We do have some concerns, when it comes to media reports, because we have seen cases of sensational reporting, but this is still not a serious concern.

Do you see any increase in criminal activity? What is the police’s attitude towards these people? Are they obeying the law and just waiting? Or are they causing any sort of trouble?

There were reports about criminal activities, criminal acts, assaults by smugglers, refugees, and migrants. The Serbian police have been dealing with this. These reports caused concern in the local communities where these cases happened, but things are still under control and there are no serious concerns at the moment.

What we are concerned about is that the people who are staying in Serbia are more and more desperate and we can see that many of them are depressed and they feel like there is no future for them. They don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We are afraid that we could have cases of self-harm.

When you talk to people, do they tell you where they want to go?

When we talk to the people, they tell us that they want to go to Western European countries. Most of them want to go to Germany, some of them to France, or Italy, or Sweden. Some of them don’t really have an idea of where in particular they want to go. They just know that they want to reach a Western European country. Many of them – when they are thinking about a country or about their destination – actually, they want to join their families or members of their families who are already there. So, many people already have someone in Germany – for example – or in Sweden. These people left earlier or maybe they left last year. So, this is a strong “pull” factor for them – they want to join their families.

Have you ever heard someone mentioning Romania as the final destination country?

Well, me personally, no, I haven’t. I can’t recall anybody actually mentioning Romania.



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