Refugees: Balkan pass
Military and special police forces guard the Serbian border with Macedonia. “No, everything is quiet and peaceful,” says an officer.“We have bigger problems,” he motions to the mountains, beyond which stretches Kosovo – a country Serbia doesn’t recognise.
Over the 8 kilometer stretch refugees travel from Macedonia to Serbia – although, the flow has decreased dramatically since Macedonian government forbade access to non Iraqi, Syrian or Afghan nationals. “This is probably the last long walk they’ll have to do,” says Marta Behdrendt, one of over 100 international volunteers.
Presevo, in the most southerly part of Serbia, is surrounded on three sides by Macedonia and Kosovo. In this one of Serbia’s most deprived regions, refugees are met with minarets – over 90% of the people here are Albanian Muslims.
“Supporting refugees became trendy, at the beginning no one wanted to help,” laughs Abdula Ahmedi, who works for a Serbian NGO – “Now the local people and businesses compete who will help and donate more.”
“Some people in Presevo are angry, because we have meet, fish and so on,” says a volunteer working for a transit camp, run by the Red Cross, where refugees can seek warmth and food. Nearby, an Albanian man collects discarded fruits by the road to feed his cows.
In Arab countries, recycling is an uncommon sight – heaps of rubbish by the road confirms this fact crossing the Aegean. However, in Arabic and also Persian cultures, strict sense of etiquette exists.
“They don’t want to refuse food handed to them by the volunteers, even if they can’t eat it all. After, we see pictures of bread thrown in the rubbish bins by the right-wing media,” says Marta.
Some Serbians and Albanians don’t miss the chance to profit from the exhausted families – illegal taxis transfer from the border to the town, where trains and buses go to Croatia for 15 and 30 euros respectively, or they take the refugees themselves to the Croatian border for more than 600 euros.
“I don’t think – I know, that they pay the police for this business,” says a taxi driver Drogan – “Why then the buses don’t just pick them up at the border?” adds volunteer Kristina from Switzerland.
Every refugee expresses desire to work. However, they will be subsequently met by a rising tide of xenophobia across Europe, where a work permit is impossible to attain for refugees.
“Next time we’ll meet in Germany, Inshallah,” says Azmar from Afghanistan – “We’re all tired and cold, we walked for three hours.”
“We have money, but we don’t have safety,” says a girl from Afghanistan, when asked what she thinks about the irrational anger in Europe, that refugees with smartphones don’t need help.
“The situation is very difficult. I worked in Baghdad’s ministry for water, and I survived two suicide bombings – from one of them, I flew in the air two meters,” says Yusef Zuwait, dragging his son Ali by the hand, as his wife walks up a hill ahead
“I’m a Yazidi” – religious minority, which Daesh is seeking to destroy through genocide – “It was very dangerous. In my ministry, there’s no one left – they all fled.”
“They have money, we don’t; We have passports, they don’t,” says a volunteer Harris, German-Bosnian, whose family fled from the 90s war. Marta, also a German-Bosnian, adds: “I understand these people very well, we all lived through the same.”