Refugee shelter between trees: the faces of crisis

Hoping for safety only, refugees in their transit through Serbia are in spite of domestic hospitality having a hard time on their long path to a better life. 9 years-old Sepna, former interpreter Abdulahh and mother of six – Amina are not just quota numbers heading toward EU countries. They are human faces of enormous crisis, which international community must open eyes to see. 


Early morning in the Serbian capital. Outdoor drizzles. From time to time, cool wind is blowing. It’s about 12oC. The city runs its everyday life. A bus driver is slowly smoking his cigarette meanwhile waiting for his passengers. A newsstand cashier is selling a local newspapers which is filled up by news about situation over refugees crisis in Europe, and in Serbia particularly.

The first acquaintance with the city begins with the most dynamic part – the railway and bus stations. In the square opposite to the bus station a small refugee camp has been set up. The park looks horrible. Cans, empty packs of cigarettes, wet clothes and other trash are scattered everywhere. Colorful tents are covered by waterproof jackets to prevent getting water inside. But it seems that nobody pays attention that in the park nearby, people from the Middle East are trying to temporarily accommodate their life in the city. Refugees became indispensable part of Serbs’ everyday life.

Bedraggled and tired people stand under trees or umbrellas to hide from rain. Their clothes are dirty due to omnipresent mud. Refugees don’t have any socks and wear shoes in a shabby way. Some don’t have shoes at all. They just have flop-flops. Covered by blankets- donation from UNICEF- refugees are milling around. They fled their homeland and didn’t take too much with them apart from the idea of being free. Despite the lack of everything they don’t complain and don’t ask for anything.

Is it possible to be indifferent to human tragedy right in front of you?

Syrian and Afghan asylum seekers who wish to apply for asylum in the Western Europe are transiting through Belgrade. The refugees are spending only few days in the Serbian capital  on their way to the Croatian and Hungarian borders.

Sometimes it becomes complicated to communicate with refugees. Actually they can’t speak English, only few of them understand English. Newcomers avoid speaking to journalists or being filmed and photographed. They didn’t want to talk with us neither. But thanks to wish to have photos with girls from Poland, we had a possibility to make friends and get to know their stories.

Sepna, 9 years old

She left Afghanistan 3 months ago with her younger brother and parent and took a walk towards Turkey and Greece. Now they are waiting for departure at the Belgrade bus station. In the future wants to become a doctor and helps people.

– We want to get to Germany and arrange our family life there – said Sepna.

Having leadership skills Sepna is recognizable in the group of refugees. She knows everyone in this camp. She provide a lot of positive vibe smiling all the time.



Attan, 4 years old

He’s Sepna’s younger brother and wears pink wellingtons, perhaps inherited from his sister. Playing with spear he is holding his pure white teddy. He likes playing football and dreams to become a football player in the future.





Abdullah, 29 years old

He is clean and well-dressed. He speaks English fluently, because he used to work for American army for 2,5 years as an interpreter. His parents told him to leave Afghanistan. He might have been killed. His journey has started almost 3 months ago. After spending 20 days in Bulgarian jail he was released.

– In Bulgaria I have been 20 days in prison. Bulgarian police and civilians behave like animals and treated us very badly. If you don’t have any documents, you have to give them 200 euros or you go to prison- said Abdullah.

During his trip four of his friends were shot by Iraqis. He appreciates Serbian hospitality, but his dream is to reach England and study there.

Amina, 47 years old

She has six daughters and one son, who is unhappy because of lack of the playground. She needs some medicine for her children but knows that she have to cope against the odds on her own. She wipes her nose in her scarf on account of lack of handkerchief.

– I have realize that there are some ups and downs in our life and the only thing I want is to be safe, she explained us her simple dream for herself and her family.

In the meantime, a local volunteers are trying to organize the life of the refugees. Supportive organization like Red Cross or UNICEF help to put refugees through temporary inconvenient situation by giving them the most needful things. They bring food, water, sleeping bags and warm clothes. Necessities are distributed to refugeesfree of charge.

Teachers of local school organized a collection of toys for the children refugees. Nearby is also an information point, where each arriving refugee can obtain information about the current situation at the borders.

Comfort in the refugee camp is limited to a minimum especially for those who cannot pay for a hostel or a cheap hotel. Warm clothes and sleeping bags have great relief to refugees. In the evening it becomes very cold.


In the park refugees drink water, take shower and shave in a small fountain. We are saying goodbye to the Afghans and exiting the park. Five refugees’s going to the fountain – one has bare feet, and on them only flip-flops. Together with a woman, probably a mother, they’re bathing a small child in the fountain. Early morning in the Serbian capital. Outdoor drizzles. From time to time, cool wind is blowing. It’s about 12oC. The city runs everyday life…




Olivia Drost @olivia_drost

Barbara Erling @Basia_Erling

Gagik Grigoryan @gag_grigoryan


The article is part of the outputs of the European Youth Press’ project “Making Twitter Length News: media literacy in digital media”. The article has not been edited and it doesn’t necessarily represents editorial policy of the EYP.

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