Captain's log, Earth date 22092015... I keep wishing we could evolve to an alternate universe in which everyone is treated the same and given the same chances, and in which there is no violence, persecution, hunger or violation of basic human rights. A universe in which problems are solved together and any enemies are in a galaxy far away.
And yet, we are all too aware of the reality – the greatest refugee and migrant crisis in Europe since the Second World War happening in our backyards these days. Images of dying children, or children shivering out of fear or cold, are not easy to ignore. Being a war child myself, such images are no a novelty for me, but familiarity only makes them harder to endure.
After spending the first 20 days of September in Belgrade and along the Serbian border with Hungary and Croatia, I have a burning need to explain to people that it’s the little things that can make the most difference. Even frogs made of coloured paper that magically revive and jump, chalk for the sidewalks, soap bubbles, balloons, anything related to Sponge Bob… I have seen Dubravka, our Program Officer in Serbia, easily overcoming any language barrier with these simple things, not only with children, but with their parents and single travellers, too. After weeks, and in some cases months, on the road, they all crave a warm smile and kind words, the same as food and shelter.
I have met many children in the past few weeks and I am in awe of their resilience. Even in improvised tents and living conditions unfit for human beings, they still find the way to be just kids. Our mobile Child Friendly Space team is present daily at the locations where refugees and migrants wait to continue their journey towards Western Europe, towards a future free from the violence they are fleeing. Even before they manage to set up the small “playground”, children are there, ready to help and take part in any upcoming activity.
Only their drawings show how much they need some normalcy in their lives and how such activities are important for them in order to overcome the trauma caused by leaving their homes and suffering harsh situations while travelling. We spoke with a 14-year-old boy from Afghanistan who travelled for seven months from his home country to Serbia. His story left us feeling helpless. How do you help a boy who has travelled alone for over 5,000 kilometres, enduring tough roads, beatings by smugglers, who had been robbed and who is left with only one thing: belief that, once he reaches Sweden, his target country, he will be allowed a normal, decent life? He deserves a life where he has the right to learn, to play, where he can grow in a safe environment and where his human and child rights are respected. Before he ran to catch his bus, he told me he hopes he won’t have to face any violence ever again. I hope that by now he has arrived at his destination safe and sound and that he missed the incidents at the border.
We don’t forget the youngest. As many refugee and migrant families arrive with newborn babies, we have set up a Mothers’ and Babies’ space within the premises of the Asylum Info Centre, within walking distance from the area where refugees and migrants spend their time while in transit in Belgrade. This is a place where mothers with young children can come to feed or change their babies and also get a daily ration of baby food and hygiene products.
After the number of refugees and migrants jammed at the Hungarian border grew, we also delivered basic daily nutrition packages and baby kits (containing baby food, milk, diapers, etc). At this moment, there are no significant retentions at the border with Croatia but we will continue to follow the situation closely so that we are able to respond quickly should the need arise. Seeing how difficult conditions were in August and September, we are seriously concerned about the upcoming colder months and what those conditions could mean for refugees who are still arriving to Serbia – on average 1,000 people every day.
In the meantime, we are present on a daily basis in Belgrade, where there are 500 to 1,000 refugees and migrants at any moment. For the children especially, who deserve a carefree, happy childhood: it’s the little things that can make a great difference.
Sejla Dizdarevic, communications assistant for Save the Children in the North West Balkans.