Last week I went down to the refugee center by the main bus depot in Belgrade. I spent 5 hours sorting through clothing donations, folding, tidying, and helping people find what they were looking for. I helped a boy find a jacket for a younger brother, and apologized when I realized the backpack I had found him – one of the very last that we had in stock – was ripped. I helped a little girl find a pair of leggings and a new headscarf. A man cluelessly searched for underwear for his 3 children – all under 5. Many people asked for socks and belts. We didn’t have any left.
There was a heat wave in Serbia last week. Many of the people passing through on their way into the EU were looking specifically for shorts and t-shirts. I found pant legs on the ground where people had just taken scissors to full-length jeans and couldn’t contain my bafflement. Don’t they realize winter is just around the corner? I asked another volunteer helplessly. These people are trying to make their way to Austria? To Sweden? In shorts?
I don’t think I’ll ever really know how dire the situation is for some of these people. Traveling a dangerous path for months, cut off from family and support, unable to speak the language, living in a tent in a park. One man overhead some volunteers talking about the situation at the border in Hungary. He didn’t speak any English, but he interrupted, repeating Hungary over and over desperately. The volunteers told him “No Hungary. Croatia. Go to Croatia.”
Croatia then closed off its borders as well. They reopened yesterday, but the temperature has been dropping steadily with the promise of true autumn on the wind. Whether they’re called ‘refugees’ or ‘migrants’ these people are all anyone is Europe is talking about these days. I suppose this is what history is made of – crises with unimaginable endgames. What will happen to these people? How many more will come? Will the borders with their walls and their guards buckle under the sheer number of asylum seekers or will the masses finally turn back, defeated and depleted, to pass the cold season right here?