Hundreds of volunteers assist migrants in new centre in Croatia

Published: 17 November 2015 19:07 CET

By John Engedal Nissen, IFRC

Smiles light up the faces of the men, women and children walking by the line of Croatian Red Cross volunteers, who swiftly hand them packages of food. Everybody gets one, even the small children walking in front of their parents.

This is Slavonski Brod, a new camp in Croatia and the only stop for people travelling through the country, as they are now transported directly from Sid in Serbia to the camp, and from here directly to the border with Slovenia. When they arrive, families and individuals are registered by authorities, and, if needed, are offered a tracing service to reconnect with families. Psychosocial support for especially vulnerable people is also available.

The group continues into an area of the camp with tents. There are toilets and showers and special heated rooms for those most affected by the cold weather. Here people can rest for the few hours it usually takes before a train arrives to take them into Slovenia.

Volunteers from the Croatian Red Cross assist them in different ways. Neven Pesut, 20, wears a cap and has a checkered, blue shirt under his Red Cross vest. He is very visible standing in the camp.

“Is there water here?” a man asks him. “Yes, over there. Yes, you can drink from the tap,” he answers and points to a container nearby. Bottles of water are also distributed.

Everyday up to 300 volunteers and staff from Croatian Red Cross are involved in the humanitarian response in the camp that sometimes accommodates 5,000 people. The society coordinates the work of other organizations in the camp.

“The Red Cross helps us here, as they have helped us in every country from Greece to Croatia,” says Abdul Qayoom, 51, from Afghanistan, wearing a gray jacket he received from Red Cross in Serbia.

In a corner, Neven Pesut helps a little boy put his jacket on. It is one of the many donated pieces of clothing being distributed in the camp. Shoes, he says, are especially needed, but often people arrive with nothing, so need shirts, trousers and sock too.

"I see it as my moral duty to help. They are humans. And besides, my family had to flee from Croatia in the 90's, so I know how they feel,” he says. “When I help a little child who smiles back, it's the top of my day.”

As the train is boarded, Croatian Red Cross volunteers assist where they can. Vjekoslav Matkovic, 30, lifts a baby from the arms of the mother and hands it back to her as soon as she is aboard.

“I probably lift ten babies aboard every day,” he says. “I am happy to help, even those who might be able to get aboard by themselves, because I see them as my friends. They are humans like you and me. Once they shook my hand, after I helped them up in the train and said ‘Thank you, you are my friend.’ That meant the world to me!”