In July I stepped off the bus in Belgrade for the first time. Immediately I was greeted with a park full of people. Hundreds of people. I had no idea at that moment that they were refugees from the Middle East, mostly Syria. I’d been bouncing around Europe for nearly 4 months at this point and didn’t even know that so many Syrians were fleeing to Germany. I have been so oblivious and in my own world that I didn’t see what was going on around me or take 10 minutes to read the news once in a while. Next thing you know I’m in a hostel with 6 refugees. Before this experience when I heard the word refugee I would think of women with sick children clinging to their chest. This was not who I met. These were 6, 20 something year old men just looking for a better life. So what did I do upon their arrival? I hid in my room. I turned a blind eye to them and to every other refugee I saw in Belgrade. I pretended I didn’t see them because it was so much easier. What can I do? I’m just a backpacker and if I turn my back on them long enough I’ll be in a new place and never be faced with it again. But of course I couldn’t forget them. The second time I went to Belgrade I did the same thing. Only this time I was staying with a friend who is involved with the community. She helped collect toiletries for them and is starting a project to remind others that they are individuals, not just refugees. So it sunk in some more. Even after talking so much with her about the situation I still left Belgrade without doing anything. Went on my merry way having a ball and being a tourist. But there they were in the back of my mind the entire time.
Finally with just a few weeks left on my journey I opened my eyes. A few days ago I read 3 or 4 articles about the situation in Hungary, Germany, Serbia and everywhere else around Europe right before a long bus ride. As I dozed off I was wondering why people aren’t doing more to help. Why are so many rejecting these humans seeking a better life? Then I realized I turned my back on them. Literally. I turned around and walked the other way when the opportunity to help was right in front of me.
Some people at home or elsewhere might be wondering what Belgrade has to do with the situation and why am I going there. Basically the best route for those seeking refuge is through the Balkans and up to Hungary to get on to Germany where they are most welcomed. Serbia is just a resting point along the way to a better life. A year ago there were maybe a few dozen people a day from the middle east passing thru Belgrade and now it is more than 1,000 per day. As the situation worsens in Syria the crowds grow larger and larger. They are leaving everything behind and risking their lives to get to a better place. This route is long, hard and not guaranteed to get them into Germany. It is better than the alternatives though. Hundreds of people are packing themselves into boats that are capsizing or getting smuggled in cars and suffocating. Every news story and picture I see on the internet about these people dying en route breaks my heart. I can’t help but think of what I would do in the same circumstance. I am so grateful that I was born in a place that I don’t have to make these choices. Stay in a war-torn country and die or try to get to a safe place and die on the way? How do you make that decision for your family? I thank my lucky stars every day that this is not likely a scenario I will ever be in.
So what am I doing now? Honestly, I am kind of trying to get rid of the guilt I feel for doing nothing the first and second time I was in Belgrade. I have about 2 weeks I can spend there and plan to fill my backpack up a few times a day with supplies that they need. Food, Toiletries and whatever other necessities. I have my own money to spend and thanks to some family and friends at home the amount has doubled. I think what I have to give may not be much but hopefully it will make their journey a little easier.