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Published 6 years ago by Triseult with 4 Comments

An Afternoon with Refugees in Belgrade

Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time in a Muslim culture can tell you how incredibly different reality is from the general public’s preconceived notions in the West. All Afghans we met today were so very gentle, kind, and with an easy smile once you broke through the shyness.

  • The center

    The Miksaliste refugee donation center in Belgrade, Serbia The Miksaliste refugee donation center in Belgrade, Serbia
  • My partner and I spent the afternoon today at a refugee aid distribution center in Belgrade. As far as helping, I don't know that I accomplished much: I was assigned to sorting and folding clothes, which I wouldn't consider one of my strong skills. Still, very glad I went.

    The people visiting the center this afternoon were almost all men from Afghanistan. Syrians now take another route to Europe, since the one that passes through Belgrade requires transit through Bulgaria, about which I've only heard horrible things today. Tales of corrupt cops beating up refugees and throwing their shoes in the river before sending them back barefooted across the Turkish border. That kind of messed up stuff. The Syrians are mostly welcomed as war refugees, but Afghans are considered "economic refugees" so coming from Turkey, Bulgaria is pretty much their only option.

    Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time in a Muslim culture can tell you how incredibly different reality is from the general public’s preconceived notions in the West. All Afghans we met today were so very gentle, kind, and with an easy smile once you broke through the shyness. All of them felt to me like genuinely good people. We spoke a while with Muhammad, a young man who was drinking tea in the café area. His eyes lit up when we said we were from Canada; he clearly dreamt of moving there (Vancouver, to be exact), and it was sad to consider all the ways in which he is far from that goal right now. My partner gave him a Canadian quarter that commemorates the Vancouver Olympics, and I like to think it will bring him luck on his journey. Inshallah.

    If stories of Bulgarian police brutality were disheartening, I was very impressed with the compassion shown by the Serbian and international volunteers I met. For the Serbs, perhaps it’s the recent memory of conflict, but their desire to help was unconditional. Most of the volunteers chatted easily with the refugees, joked with them, and asked them about their journey. “Europe needs this,” a fellow volunteer told me. “These are kind people, with a sense of family and community. They’ll do us good.” What a beautiful counterpoint to the media’s language of fear!

    Another volunteer, a Serbian gentleman who lived for a few years in France and speaks perfect French, told us how two weeks ago they met a young Afghan boy who couldn’t get money from relatives and would be forced to spend a cold night in the park with little to no warm clothes. The volunteers decided to chip in and pay his bus ticket to the border, where he would be taken care of until his final destination, somewhere in Western Europe. The total cost of the ticket was $5, but still the 17-year-old boy turned it down; the volunteers argued with him.

    “This is no more than if we had paid you a cup of coffee,” they said. “Accept it! Don’t sleep in the park, please. Take it.”

    The boy finally gave in and accepted the bus ticket, then broke down in tears.

    That’s why I’m glad I went and folded clothes today. It reminded me of this power I have, that we all have. Don’t let fear and politics convince you otherwise.

 
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