New silence. 4 people staring at each other, eager to know more…
But it took us less than a second to write a new chapter in our travel: « Could you show us where you live and tell us your stories? » This time, the answer « yes » was more enthusiastic!Direction the train station, where old abandonned barracks still stand behind a car park. We sat with one of our two new friends, in a quiet corner of this open squat area to hear about his story:
« Sweet » (his nickname) was an economics student in second year living in Pakistan – because it is better in Pakistan than in Afghanistan he confessed. One of his married sisters hosted him while most members of his family (parents and 5 brothers) still live in Afghanistan. His daily was punctuated by morning classes in college, cricket trainings on afternoons and homeworks the nights. He was enjoying a joyful life listening music and watching Bollywood movies! And one day, a group of Talibans entered the school. They wanted to take boys to fight against western troops.
« Sweet » didn’t conceive joining Talibans and started to feel very unsafe… We heard from other refugees that a few friends of them who refused to join have been killed. So he took the decision to quit Pakistan and Afghanistan to reach Ireland, where one of his cousins is living. His parents were fully supportive of his decision and still continue to send some money to help their son in his journey. They are not aware of what he went through: gone at 18 years-old with a few clothes, water and food but no ID, « Sweet » walked through Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria (using trains sometimes) to end up in Serbia. He tried several times to pass borders, once through Romania where he was detained for 3 months in a closed refugees camp. He remembered a similar experience in Bulgaria, but even worse: strict policemen came to fight with some refugees and they were not able to quit the closed camp for « security reason ». For him, he hadn’t imagine Europe as jails for people who want to escape from horror and war. After all as he said, we are also human beings who aspire to a simple life – a roof, a job and a safe life. He was finally able to quit the camp after giving his finger prints – meaning that if a policeman catches him anywhere in Europe, he might be brought back to the Bulgarian refugees camp.
Now back in Serbia (Belgrade) he feels more free in this squat, walking when he wants outside this refugees area to visit Belgrade without any repression. Tomorrow maybe he will try again to pass in Europe by crossing Croatian border – for the 11th time. Maybe one day he will reach Ireland to join his cousin and be able to finish his studies in Economics, his greatest dream! And when asked about adapting himself to European culture, « Sweet » answered that « it’s not a problem for him » – in fact, he is very open-minded!
As we learnt, refugees are blocked at the entrance of European Union. Hungary has even built a wall all around its border with Serbia (Trump didn’t invent anything). You can search on Internet « refugees Belgrade » or « Hungary wall » to find more information about this situation. In the squat of Belgrade, they are approximately 1000 male refugees that prefer to stay here instead of being held in an official camp. They are mostly young and middle-age men from Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to our sources, Syrian refugees are mostly retained in official camps. We had the opportunity to take pictures with the approval of people – for ethic and security reasons, as open-squat is not an human zoo and photos shouldn’t show faces and be used for commercial purposes. Unfortunately, a big construction site (called « Water Front ») is ongoing and threatening the future of this squat.
Last winter has been very hard, with temperatures decreased to-20°C. Even for people inside barracks, there is no insulation and windows
are broken… Fortunately, some organisations came to help and provide
blankets, tents, bare necessities. We have seen some organisations giving hot teas, bananas,
health cares and even sport classes! We also met 2 french people with 1 portuguese girl, independant volonteers, to help to clean the camp (click there to visit her website).
We helped them, it was our first experience in humanitarian volonteering. In this type of help, we always should make people participate in the tasks instead of letting organisation make the cleaning itself. Even if some are depressed for what they live and the distance with their families, at the end some of them came to help us with a lot of fun!
« Solidarity not charity »