The Journey through Serbia
The world is witnessing the most unprecedented movement of people since World War II, with thousands of refugees continuing to arrive in Europe every day. Pushed over the edge after enduring years of conflict, and with little hopes of peace, refugees are making the exhausting, and often dangerous, journey in the pursuit of sanctuary. In Serbia, Christian Aid’s Middle East Communications Officer, Amy Merone, travelled with photographer, Andrew Testa, to document their journey.
In Miratovac, on the Serbian side of the Macedonia-Serbia border, refugees arriving from Macedonia queue to receive essential items from Christian Aid’s ACT Alliance partner, Philanthropy. Despite predictions that the flow of refugees fleeing conflict-ridden countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq would significantly decrease as winter sets in, an unusually mild November means this has not been borne out. Thousands of refugees continue to arrive in Serbia daily.
Many people are weighed down by suitcases and backpacks. Entire lives packed into bags. Children are swaddled in blankets to protect them from near-freezing temperatures in the Balkans. Some still arrive in sandals, or without socks. Muddy shoes and damp socks are frequently discarded, and replaced with wellies for the onward journey.
Twenty six-year-old Ahmad is a refugee from Kabul in Afghanistan. Fluent in English and university educated, but with little hope of a peaceful life in his homeland, he hopes to travel to Belgium. He’s alone, but on the 2km walk from Miratovac to a village outside Presevo in Serbia, he carries the small boy of a family he has met along the way, now too tired to walk.
Arriving in a Serbian village several kilometres from the Macedonian border, refugees await the arrival of buses that will take them to the town of Presevo where they will be registered before continuing their journey north through the country. Most, but not all, will pay thirty five Euros to travel by bus to the border with Croatia, where they will begin their journey through Western Europe.
Following the route north, refugees share stories of years spent enduring the conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan: years without education, dried up savings, and the sheer exacerbation of ‘living in hell’, which has finally proved too much for so many.
At a motorway service station in Sid, close to the Serbian border with Croatia, thousands of refugees wait here for several hours every day for news that a train has arrived that will take them onto the next leg of their long journey. Signs in Arabic depict where refugees can access a doctor, charge their mobile phones, and find clean water.
Refugees arriving in Sid make use of homemade maps of Europe, depicting the countries they will travel through on their journey to a place of sanctuary. Many whom we talk to tell us they wish to start new lives in Germany, Belgium, Sweden, or Norway. ‘Is it cold there?’ many ask.
As the night draws in at the motorway service station in Sid, and the temperature drops to three degrees, many of the women and children stay warm on the heated buses and try to get some rest before the next exhausting leg of their journey.
At the motorway service station, young men charge their mobile phones. Smart phones enable people to look back and remember, and to keep in touch with loved ones in their homeland. But they are also vital tools for looking ahead, planning onward travel, and connecting with friends who have already reached Western Europe.
As news comes that the train bound for Croatia has arrived, everybody will rush back to their buses, eager to be on their way as quickly as possible. There will be hurried goodbyes, hands clasping children tightly, and soon enough, hundreds more to replace those who have left. And still they will come.
Christian Aid is working to provide vital humanitarian support to refugees in Serbia and Greece through our ACT Alliance partners. To find out more, and to donate to our work, please visit the Christian Aid website.
All photos by Andrew Testa