I happened to be in Belgrade recently. It’s a great city, there are interesting things to see and lots of cool places to eat and drink, but that’s not what this post is about. There are two little parks near the bus station that were, and still are, full of Syrian refugees (plus some other people). It’s a pretty crazy situation.
Here are some pictures I took when I was there, but I should add that, the morning we left, there were a lot more people and a lot more tents. I took some pictures, but then I noticed I forgot to put an SD card in my camera... sorry!
The situation is not what I expected when I heard there were refugees and it may not be what you have in mind either. First of all, most of them stay only one or two days at most. They’re usually trying to get to Hungary, because it’s in Schengen, with Germany as their final destination.
Secondly, they may not have a lot of food or clothes, but a lot of them do have smartphones. Also, many come by bus—they have money for bus tickets. After all, they are not fleeing poverty, they are fleeing war. A fact that is often exploited by local businesspeople, in some cases asking them €5 to charge their phones.
Most seem to be from Syria, but we also talked to some people from Afghanistan, Iran, and saw some people who were likely from Nigeria.
The most heartening thing, though, is that a lot of locals try to help them out, organizing ad hoc soup kitchens, handing out flyers with information, playing with kids, etc. etc. There’s also a place where people bring clothes and refugees can come get them for free (in my second to last picture). The local authorities seem to kind of turn a blind eye to it, several times I saw policemen in the parks, but it didn’t look like they cared about the situation either way (as long as there were no fights or anything like that). The government has put up eight portapotties and a water truck, but that’s about as far as their involvement goes.
The whole situation is pretty sad and I hope the EU will adopt a common policy whereby the refugees would be settled and distributed across Europe. I feel like such a wealthy continent of over 500 million people should be able to take them in easily.
In the meantime, donate to UNHCR and go Belgrade locals!