My Goodbye to the Refugee Route

In early March 2016, I officially resigned from my post as a cultural mediator with Save the Children in Preševo, Serbia. Even after seven months in the field, I’m still struggling to wrap my mind around the fact that, in 2016, the best option for millions of people is to pack their belongings on their back, carry their children in their arms and literally walk away from the wars plaguing their homes into an increasingly uncertain future.

Over the course of the past year, we have collectively witnessed the maturation of too many dangerous trends. European governments have imposed discriminatory border closures and illegal caps on asylum applications, ignoring fair and lawful international procedures. Tens of thousands of refugees suffer inhumane conditions in ‘no man’s lands’ along the route without any viable solution presented — not to mention the millions stuck in insufficiently-equipped camps around the world or in perilous limbo elsewhere. The language we use to talk about asylum seekers and migrants has become increasingly caustic, politicized and shaded with suspicion. Upon viewing the current scenes in Preševo, Idomeni, Chios, Lesbos and beyond, the world’s failure to muster a compassionate response to these highly vulnerable people becomes painfully clear.

It would have been easy to get stuck in the gloominess of it all. Fortunately, that wasn’t an option for me, thanks to the countless glowing reminders of humanity I encountered along the way: a mother with a broken foot resisting a wheelchair in order to appear strong for her children, a pregnant 17-year-old only hoping to give birth to a healthy baby in safety, a young man who spent two frantic nights learning how to steer a boat from YouTube videos before propelling his group across the Mediterranean, two young boys who waited weeks in Preševo for a friend recovering from surgery despite the threat of border closures, a pair of sisters cheerfully (wisely) offering to thread my eyebrows, an old man offering his handkerchief to clean my glasses in the rain… And the list, of course, goes on. I hope I never forget them, although their faces will surely fade with time.

What will never leave me is the courage and inspiration I found in my former colleagues, the amazing volunteers and, especially, the refugees themselves. Because of them, I believe now more than ever that love is stronger than hate. Thank you — this one’s for everybody fighting the good fight ❤