Heat, shelter, food and comfort on the migration trail through Slovenia

Published: 20 October 2015 15:30 CET

By John Engedal Nissen, IFRC

It is dark and cold when a large group arrives by train to Središče ob Dravi in Slovenia. Following the closure of the border between Croatia and Hungary in the middle of October, thousands of people making their way through the Western Balkans have had to change their route – going via Slovenia – to Austria, Germany and other countries further north in Europe.

Once in Slovenia, people are taken to a registration centre where the Slovenian Red Cross distributes water, food, hygiene products and blankets, providing also medical assistance. The society has been preparing for this situation over many months, and was able to deploy a team of volunteers to offer support and relief as people travelled through the country.

Muhammed Abed, his wife Ahlas Tam and their three-year-old son Ali Hadi were among the first to be registered. While they waited for the process to finish, and then for a bus that would take them to an accommodation centre closer to Austria, they were given blankets and food by Red Cross volunteers. They had fled Iraq and were headed for Sweden, and had grown used to the waiting that proves to come with forced migration. The wait for registration, they said, would be followed by another wait on the border before they would be allowed to cross it and continue their journey.

The accommodation centre where the family will find a safe bed for the night is in Gornja Radgona, on the Austrian border. It consists of several large halls linked together and equipped with hundreds of beds, blankets, benches and tables.

Grateful for a hot meal

As well as a good night’s sleep, the families staying at the centre can also call on the support of volunteers such as Istok Kuzma Simrajh, 38, who provides first aid. Istok has been a volunteer with the Slovenian Red Cross for 15 years but, he says during a break from his duties, that he has never experienced anything like this. "We do what we can to help, and it feels meaningful because the people we see are very grateful. If I ever need help, I hope someone will be there for me too," he says, before being interrupted by two small boys asking for plaster.

The relief really does make a difference, says Muhammad Ahmed, a father of two who is fleeing from Syria. “The journey has been very difficult. My children nearly died crossing the Aegean Sea,” he says. “I had to pull them out of the water when our boat punctured.” In addition to these dangers, Muhammad says that loneliness is one problem that most people would not normally associate with migration. “I have felt so alone, but the Red Cross has helped us again and again. They have been here all along the way.” Today, though, he was most grateful for a hot meal for himself and his children. “Today I finally felt that I ate,” he says. “Today I feel like a human again.”