Giving hope to refugee families

By Heidi Isaza, World Vision Middle East & Eastern Europe Regional Office

For many refugees arriving in Serbia, this is the latest stop in an exhausting journey. This week World Vision began distributing baby packs, with diapers and other basics, in camps in Subotica and Kanjiza in northern Serbia, close to the Hungarian border. With an estimated 2,000 migrants crossing the border from Macedonia into Serbia daily, needs are growing.

Kanjiža camp, just south of the country’s border with Hungary, seems like one of the busiest places in the world at the moment. Not a minute passes by without someone walking through its gates.

Men, women and children of all ages come carrying their possessions in small bags, looking for a place where they can rest.

Blue and green tents cover most of the camp and, despite providing rudimentary shelter, there are no beds or proper floors inside. People sit and sleep on the ground. In spite of the conditions, the camp is nearly full, with around 400 refugees currently staying here. On Monday, over 3,000 refugees passed through the camp before continuing their journey.

Fuad, 48, left Syria six months ago. After five months in Turkey, he started his journey towards Germany with his wife and daughter. Two of his sons died in Syria and Fuad lost one of his legs. “I am very tired,” he says, sitting on a bench with his walking stick beside him. He says the most difficult part of his journey was the long walk across Greece.

“We walked for too long,” he says. But, he plans to walk again, now that he is close to the Hungarian border.

Reem, 25, is in the camp with her husband, sister and nephew. As she watches her one -year-old nephew playing on the grass in front of the tents, she smiles.

“He just wants to play, play, and play. I don't know why,” she tells me.

Despite the warm weather during the day, Reem says the most urgent need for people in the camp is clothes, as temperatures drop significantly during the night.

“We didn't know it would be that cold here. It was so cold last night, we couldn't sleep. It was warmer in Turkey and Greece,” she explains, before adding, “We lost all of our things at sea.”

Their coats were among their lost possessions. Reem and her family now just have the clothes they were wearing during the sea-journey.

To help refugees cope with the difficult situation, we are delivering packs of nappies, baby cream and soap, wet wipes, toys, toothbrushes and toothpaste, disinfectant, shampoo and female personal hygiene items in Kanjiža camp. Our first distribution on Wednesday provided enough packs for 150 families in the camp.

"One major concern is to see that vulnerable people, especially women with infants and children travelling on their own, are protected and that their basic needs are met," my colleague Aida told me. She spoke to some of the families camping in a park in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, on Tuesday.

“I miss my bed. I was used to sleeping normally, and now I have to sleep in the park,” says Alimuseneh, 11, whom Aida met sitting on a park bench with his four-year-old brother, Yusef. Having nowhere to go, their family will spend at least the night there.

Muhammed, a 72-year-old grandfather, sat on another bench with his grandchildren Abdelhabi, five, and Ammar, one.

“It is very hard,” he says. “We spent the night sleeping on the ground in the park. We didn't have a blanket to cover ourselves. It was very cold.”

Our policy teams estimate that as many as 8,000 children might be making the journey from Syria to Europe on their own.

“The number of children making these journeys by themselves is hugely concerning to World Vision. They’ve either been separated from their families, or their caregivers have been unable to afford to go with them,” says Conny Lenneberg, World Vision’s regional director of the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Since the Syrian refugee crisis began more than four years ago, World Vision has helped more than 2 million people in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. World Vision is hoping to expand its work to include providing child protection services in the Serbian camps and beyond. You can help us by donating to our appeal here.

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