Idomeni in Greece and The Jungle in France, while both of these camps have closed- their images are burned on many of our minds- the Warehouse in Belgrade is the latest hell hole for refugees. This winter there were images of refugees fingers with frostbite all over the internet- some of these photos were from the Warehouse.
It is easy to find refugees if you know what you are looking for- today they are literally in most European cities- some in camps, others not. The warehouse houses over 1000 men and boys from around the world. With no electricity and not much running water this is the worst of the worst right now of this crisis. We parked the van by the train station and started asking refugees where the Warehouse was. Within minutes we were on our way- our timing was perfect as it was about noon and there were about a dozen volunteers gathered and a line was forming.
We asked what time food distribution was and they said 13:00. Introductions were made, many of the volunteers had recently arrived themselves. Drawn to the images we have
seen on social media. Within minutes a van pulling a food truck pulled up- the driver drove everything up onto the waiting ledge and everyone set to work. Out of the van came another 6 volunteers who had spend the morning preparing food for 1000+ people. They used to feed 2X a day at this squat, but have recently switched to 1 time with another feeding taking place at a camp near by.
We formed a human chain and passed on about 20 big covered serving trays of steaming food. It smelled amazing! Amanda and I were put on line monitor duty. A very necessary job- we were spaced maybe 20 feet apart with about 8 other volunteers and would call out to people who cut into the line. The line grew like a serpents tail……..it took over an hour for the line to stop having people join it and another 30 min for everyone to get fed. This happens everyday-365 days a year.
In between the abandoned warehouses which are now home to these men and boys, about a half dozen men and young boys (the youngest looked to be about 10) played cricket. The ball would be hit onto the roof of the
building with the line and everyone would watch and see the ball rain from the sky. Imagine sending your 10 year old to another country- how bad it would it have to be?
Everyone here is trying to sneak into Germany or the UK. The smugglers take them out nightly, the vast majority are caught, beat up, their phones stomped on and sent back to Belgrade. Again and again- like groundhog day. If they make it once they arrive in Germany or the UK they register and their resettlement clock starts. Right now they are in limbo- a true no mans land of uncertainty and instability.
We next headed to a center also near the train station that has about a dozen NGO’s who support the refugee population. Big names like Save the Children, but many more local or small NGO’s supporting the 500 refugees that pass thru their doors everyday. We met with the director of the building and she is very open to having future CTF teams come and work with the women and children.
Our van has picked up a familiar odor, similar to our Greek van. A combo of sweaty bodies, food and garbage. It is actually quite gross!
Tomorrow will be our last day here – the weeks have gone fast and we both are anxious to get home. Our weather which forecasted thunderstorms this whole week has been amazing- our only real rain when we were driving yesterday to Belgrade. Very thankful-