“Everything got destroyed in Syria. War. Horrible war,” says Fadi, a physics professor from Syria, as he sits on a thin blanket in a park in the Serbian capital, Belgrade. The sky is almost completely covered in gray clouds and it seems like the rain is about to start any minute.
If it does, Fadi and his four family members who sit around him will have nowhere to hide. Besides some personal belongings, the thin blanket where he sits is all they have. They worry about when the night comes, as they have no other option but to sleep in the open, with no shelter at all.
Thousands of refugees enter Serbia every day. They stay in Belgrade for a couple of days before continuing their long and hard journeys.
It has taken 20 days for Fadi and his family members: Zakariya, 25; Ahmed Ibrahim, 12; Betul, 24, and Ghaidaa, 20, to reach Belgrade. It was a difficult journey that took them through Turkey, Greece and Macedonia. They were robbed three times in Greece. “Our tent, our shoes and our money were stolen,” says Fadi.
In Macedonia, they were beaten by police and had to walk for six hours until they reached the border with Serbia where they boarded a bus to Belgrade.
But their journey is not finished. Zakariya wants to get to Sweden or Germany, where they can rebuild a life for themselves. Once there, he hopes to continue his geography studies.
But, not everyone has the same dream. “I want to go back to Syria,” says 12-year-old Ahmed Ibrahim, Fadi’s cousin, in a quite voice. “When he speaks to his parents on the phone, he cries,” adds Fadi.
His tears are not a surprise. Ahmed Ibrahim had to leave his parents and five siblings in Syria. There was just not enough money for his whole family to leave the country. “It is cheaper to get children out of Syria: It costs half of the price of an adult,” explains Zakariya.
On the other side of the street, another park is also full of refugees trying to find a place to rest before they continue towards other countries.
Muhammed, 72, sits on the park bench with two of his grandchildren on his lap. His daughter-in-law is sitting nearby, fixing a little red jacket for one of the boys who are only 2.5 and 1-year-old. In front of them, on the park’s ground, pieces of cardboard are covered with a thin stripped, blanket. This is where they slept the night before.
“It was cold and we didn’t have blankets to cover ourselves,” says Muhammed, whose home in Syria was completely destroyed. “It is very difficult,” he adds. He has nowhere to return to.
After being a refugee in Lebanon for three years, Muhammed returned to Syria, but as violence there worsened, he had to seek refuge once again. Eight months ago, he and his family escaped to Turkey. After some time spent there, they continued to Greece. “That was the hardest – travelling by sea,” he remembers. “We were in a small rubber boat and travelled for eight hours. I was afraid for my life. Had the waves been bigger, we could have drowned,” he says.
Like many others, Muhammed crossed Macedonia on foot and entered Serbia. Now, Muhammed is hoping to continue his journey towards Austria where his sons live.
World Vision is responding to the refugee crisis in the Western Balkans by providing basic hygiene and food packages. World Vision also intends to expand its work to include providing child protection services.
The story was first published by World Vision.
Photo: Aida Šunje