Information. It will seem strange, but this is the first word that comes to my mind when I think about the week spent in Šid, Serbia, helping refugees on their way as they travelled to Europe, passing through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia. The information that we receive is often filtered by newspapers and news reporters who speak of numbers, of countries with un-pronounceable names, and of the risks that we as the West run.
I collected a different kind of information during the sunny and strangely warm November days in Serbia. Information obtained through speaking with team members, volunteers, people of various NGOs, journalists, with the Serbian prisoners who cleaned the camp, with locals and with the refugees.
So many refugees...I saw thousands in the few days in Šid. I saw them arrive in hundreds on buses at the service station that had been turned into a temporary camp. I saw them lying on the grass, sitting on pieces of cardboard, washing themselves with water from the fire hydrant, making a queue in front of the shops, being scolded by the local authorities and boarding the train that would take them to Croatia.
I saw them joking, laughing, and crying with blank stares in their eyes. I saw them proud, discouraged and hopeful. People coming from far-off and exotic countries: mainly Syria and Afghanistan, but also Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Eritrea, Sudan and Palestine. I saw, perceived and understood things that I had never imagined or considered.
Our small team composed of four Italian Christians coming from four different churches, was able to help. We cleaned the service station, collecting diapers, paper, leftover food and abandoned socks. We helped Doctors Without Borders set up a large tent that will host the refugees when it starts to rain and snow and when the temperatures drop.
We listened to the stories, incredible stories of people on the move, with a confusing present and an uncertain future. Like the story of Hessa*, an Afghani woman, only 19 years old, on the run, with the hope of reaching Switzerland. We explained to them why we had come from Italy to help them and could only smile when the language barrier was too much. We made sure we prayed for them constantly throughout the week.
Even though our contribution was like a drop in the ocean, I remembered that our contribution, as believers, cannot be missed. In the face of this tragedy, we cannot pretend nothing has happened. We can intervene in prayer, support humanitarian projects, go first-hand to help, and prepare our churches and homes to receive, with love and mercy, these needy people.
A developing OM project, called ‘Safe Passage’, focuses on meeting refugees at their initial entry points, providing information as well as water, food and essentials. To give to OM’s relief efforts, or for more information about how to get involved, please contact your local OM office.
Credit: Michel Di Feliciantonio · © 2016 OM International