In Serbia, former refugees use their experience to help people on the move

Publié: 30 septembre 2015 14:38 CET

By Tommaso Della Longa – IFRC

Milica Duka was four years old when she and her family fled from Mostar to Serbia during the Balkan War. Now, she is a volunteer with the Red Cross of Serbia, supporting people going through what she once did, at the very train station in Belgrade where she arrived with her family. She has experience. “I know why these people are fleeing. They want a safe place to stay. When we fled our country, I was terrified. I remember people crying and the awful sound of war, even though my mom tried to cover our ears,” she says.

“This station is my first memory. Never before had I seen such a big city. Everything was confusing, but my mother was smiling and told us everything was going to be okay.”

Her story is not unusual. Many of the volunteers at Red Cross of Serbia were once refugees themselves, now eager to support vulnerable people on the move, just as they received support when they needed it. Seven days a week, they are distributing up to 500 food parcels a day for the hundreds of vulnerable migrants traveling through Serbia towards Croatia. Yet, Milica knows the support needed by these families goes beyond relief goods.

“For me, the Red Cross means good people,” she says. “Smiles, hugs and help. When I was a child, the volunteers were playing with us. They gave us something human, not only food parcels.”

While speaking, an Afghan family approaches Milica, asking for help. Afsar*, the father of the family, is traveling with his wife and three daughters. He is grateful for the assistance. “Food and water are essentials for our children, and we want to thank the Red Cross,” he says.

Still, the uncertainty of life on the road worries him:

“We don't know where to go. Probably Germany, but we are not sure. We don't know who will accept us. Now we will continue to Croatia and then we will see.”

Milica plays with Afsar’s daughters. She tries to explain to them that she knows what they are going through, although she recognizes the different challenges they face.

“At least my trip ended here. We knew we could stay. These people are desperate because they don't have a clear idea on what they will face next, passing through border after border.”

The three girls run around her, happy to play and smile. Maybe the memories of Maheed*, who is six, will be quite similar to those of Milica in the future. The sound of war, the trip, the Belgrade station and the human touch from a caring Red Cross volunteer.

*Names have been changed.