A simple gesture

By Laura Reinhardt, Photojournalist with World Vision

Yesterday was Laura’s first day in Serbia witnessing the refugee crisis in Europe firsthand. She met a young couple with their eight-month-old baby, who had just arrived in a taxi, and like thousands of other refugees, were expecting to find a safe haven. Instead they found themselves trapped in the desperate limbo that many refugees are experiencing - stuck near the Serbia-Hungary border, but unable to progress any further.

Yesterday, we arrived in Serbia to the news that Hungary was closing its borders. This morning, we heard that Kanjiza, where World Vision had been distributing relief supplies to refugees, had become practically empty. Everyone had surged towards the border to try and cross into Hungary.

Confusion reigned as people gathered at the closed border crossing, but before long they were dispersing, searching for another way. About 200 yards along a main road, a few people had begun cutting through a narrow pathway in a field, ducking under a wire fence, and heading for a different border entrance.

Continuing along the main road, we stumbled upon a path through an orchard where ripe apples were practically bursting from the trees. This picturesque and peaceful scene felt totally incongruous with the mass of humanity we had just witnessed, fruitlessly wandering from place to place and unsure what to do next.

At the end of the road, we reached the main highway connecting Serbia and Hungary. There, Serbian police told us we couldn't go any further. Scattered along the refugees’ main route towards the border were many discarded items that they couldn’t justify carrying - torn jackets, broken shoes, empty water bottles.

It was there that we saw a young Syrian man in his early 30s. Beside him, his wife stood, holding their eight-month-old baby girl named Rashnee.

We walked just a little way with them, not even getting their names because so many Syrian refugees are cautious and reluctant to give that information. Still, Rashnee's father did tell us that they came because he wanted a better life for his daughter, a chance for her to be educated - and a European country, he thought, would offer her that opportunity.

Theirs has been a long 17-day journey so far. But what they had hoped would be the entrance to a new life seems instead to be a dead end. They had wanted to wait until Rashnee was old enough to travel, but eventually found that the deteriorating situation in Syria meant that they couldn’t delay any longer and fled from Damascus.

“There is no future for Rashnee in Syria,” her father said. “No life, no education - and she needs these things.”

After a bit we met some of our colleagues, who were walking over from another closed border crossing. Upon seeing Rashnee's family, they invited them to go to a nearby field where other refugees had gathered.

At first Rashnee's father hesitated, looking at the fence bordering the apple orchard. Would this be a place where they would be detained or fenced in? Would someone be waiting at the other end of this road demanding money to take them a little further towards their destination?

"We are not rich," he told us. "We don’t travel in a big group. We will not depend on anyone but ourselves. All we need is for a country to let us in, nothing else.”

When we reached the road, they paused a moment for me to take a family photo. Then they crossed the road and headed towards the orchard - the next step in their long journey. As they walked along the roadside, Rashnee's father put his hand on his wife’s back, and the familiarity I have with that loving gesture brought tears to my eyes. The pressure of his hand seemed to convey, “We’ll get through this. I’ve got your back. Don’t worry.”

Our staff in Serbia are busy distributing much-needed relief supplies to Syrian refugees along the Serbian border with Hungary - where many are arriving with next to nothing after a long journey. We are supporting parents and carers of young children by giving family and hygiene kits to refugees in camps in Subotica and Kanjiza in northern Serbia. You can help us get these vital supplies to refugees by donating to our Refugee Crisis Appeal.

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