We meet Djordjie first thing in on a typically busy morning at the centre. He’s overseeing the arrivals of new refugees while dozens of men and boys who have spent the night in the centre, sheltering from the cold Belgrade winter, are starting to wake. The centre is warm, but the smell of dozens of unclean bodies is inescapable as many of the arrivals haven’t slept indoors, or had access to washing facilities, for many weeks or months. Djordjie tells us:
Portrait of Djordjie. Photo Credits: CARE
“The centre is used by around 300 refugees a day at the moment. At the busiest times, like when there’s a surge of violence in a particular country, we’ll see many more. We see refugees of many nationalities from two continents, most of them from the Middle East, Afghanistan or Somalia. Throughout the summer around 1200 people a day – men, women and children – were using the centre as a vital lifeline. Now it’s colder, people are tending to stop travelling and stay in formal camps to avoid the cold.
The bathrooms fitted by CARE provide an opportunity for all the refugees to get clean, and around 150 people a day will use the washing machines to clean their clothes. Many have travelled for weeks or months, mostly on foot, without having the chance to shower or change their clothes. So you can imagine how welcome a hot shower and set of clean clothes is for the new arrivals.
Djordjie at work. Photo Credits: CARE
There have been many changes to the centre over the past year. For one thing, we have gone 24/7: as the winter fast approaches, it is too cold to sleep on the streets. So while the centre is technically not a refugee camp, we will allow those who need it to sleep indoors and we provide about 200 warm blankets a day for them, which they will keep. The blankets are treated so they kill body lice, fleas and scabies, which are a huge problem for people who have spent many night s sleeping in the forest, in parks and bus shelters.
CARE is a valuable service provider here at the centre. Not only has CARE made the centre warmer, with proper windows and doors, they also provide food distributions at busy times. And, of course, the famous ‘CARE packages’ of hygiene kits and other vital items. CARE also provides another important service here: our ‘teenage corner’, which offers social activities, company and a listening ear for adolescent refugees who are travelling alone. Most are healthy at the moment, but we are waiting for winter to truly kick in. Then we’ll see coughs, colds, fever, scabies, body lice, the whole ‘winter package’.
More clothes are needed especially sturdy shoes. Many refugees have walked hundreds of miles, and many will continue to walk once they leave here. The centre gets very crowded during the winter, and illness and disease spreads fast, including staff. We still need to provide proper heating for all the rooms – we are currently asking donors for help heating all the common rooms to prepare space for winter. As staff, working here takes its toll on our health too. We’re always sick – it’s become normal for us. But our co-workers are friends – more than that, they’re more like family. And because we are like family, operations at the centre are good.
CARE has fitted sturdy and clean shower and toilet facilities, currently used by around 300 refugees a day
Naseer, a 16 year old boy from Afghanistan, can't help smiling as he describes his first hot shower in more than a month. But his smile hides a story of sorrow. Naseer is an only child, whose parents sold the family home to pay smugglers to send him to safety after the Taliban beheaded his cousin in front of him, for the ‘crime’ of going to school. He arrived at Mikseliche wearing just one shoe.
Waheed is just 14 years old, and has travelled from Afghanistan alone. He meets new friends in CARE’s ‘teenage corner’ at the centre. Waheed tells us that yesterday he had his first hot shower, and first night indoors, since he left home one month ago. “I can’t use words to say how good it felt to wash the spiders out of my hair, and the ticks from my body from living many weeks in the forest.”
At just 16, Mohamad has survived unimaginable horrors. He was kidnapped by the Taliban who broke both of his legs for delivering groceries from his father’s shop to customers who worked for the government. He fled Afghanistan only to be held hostage for 18 days by smugglers who beat him to extort more money from his family. He escaped into the Bulgarian forest without shoes or shirt, and is still afraid the smugglers will find him and kill him. He lived for weeks at a time in the forest, saw his friends shot and killed crossing the Iranian border, and now suffers from trauma. He hasn’t seen his family for 2 years and 5 months. He’s receiving psychological help at the centre, and food and hygiene kits from CARE. Mohamad has made new friends in CARE’s teenage corner and says he feels more positive now he is warm and safe.
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