Hundreds of thousands of refugees have passed through the registration center in Presevo, Serbia – it’s the entry point for refugees passing through Serbia from Macedonia. I have been organizing CWS’s response to the refugee crisis in Europe since September, and I have seen hundreds of families come through Presevo. Thousands of faces, each with a story to tell. Here is the story of three of those faces.
Hala, 25, Bothain, 21, and Nadia, 21, reached Presevo after 20 days of travel from Syria. They speak English and are happy to talk. For each question I have for them, they have one for me. The most difficult part of their journey is behind them, and their relief and happiness is obvious. Our conversation has a light tone, like friends getting together and sharing weekly happenings.
At first, they didn’t want to leave Syria. Their husbands left last summer and reached Germany. The men are still waiting for their requests for asylum to be approved, but they take it as a good sign they haven’t been sent back either.
The cost of travel at first was too expensive for the three friends, and they couldn’t afford it. Over time, with the support from their parents, they managed to save some money. Given the decreased cost of travel in the winter months, the women decided to give it a go.
They have been friends back home and they wouldn’t dream of leaving each other. Hala is the oldest, and the other two are relying on her during the journey. They stick to each other, each one never letting the other two out of her sight.
Hala says her parents cannot afford to leave yet, but they insisted that she leave because they feared for her safety. In the beginning, no one in the family considered leaving. When her husband left, she thought it was temporary and that the situation would calm down. Insecurity and violence were on the rise, though, and she feared that the conflict would only spread. She began to entertain the thought of making the journey to Europe.
It was fear that impelled her to act. She wanted to reach safety while still able to travel with some dignity and on her own terms. She fears for the safety of her parents, and she hopes she will be able to return the favor and support their journey.
Like their husbands, the friends are headed to Germany because of the ease of access, and economic opportunities.
I asked, “What is the first thing you will do when you reach Germany?” Without hesitation, all three exclaimed, “Shower!” That, and take sleep for a long, long time.
I asked about their hopes, and their responses were both simple and human. They want the same things that have been taken from them and that we take for granted, including security, happiness, and a sense of normalcy. In the meantime, though, they just want to rest and forget the sounds of war that are all too familiar.
Jovana Sanvic is the Communications and Program Manager with CWS Europe.