Yazdan, at 7 months old, knows that he’s adored. He smiles and melts the hearts of everyone around him. His mother, Balnafshan, 27, cuddles, feeds, and diapers him, wipes his face and hands with a wet wipe, and lays him down to sleep in a tent. As she rubs his back and he falls asleep, it’s as if the light fades from her face.
This is what her life has come to: a tent on a concrete pad under a rusted shed roof at an abandoned brick factory in a country – Serbia – that a few weeks ago she hardly knew existed.
Yazdan is the youngest of her three children. Adib, a boy, is three; his sister Dunya is 2. Along with her husband, Paez, and brother, Rafur, they are all that is of value in her life.
"We have been three days here. We want to go to Germany, but we have to pass through Hungary.” Fareed
Balnafshan and her family are traveling with another couple and their two children and ten single men.
Says Fareed, spokesman for the group, “We have been three days here. We want to go to Germany, but we have to pass through Hungary.”
“We are all of us from Kabul (Afghanistan),” he says. “We left from Kabul one month ago.”
In a month of travel, they’ve exhausted their resources. When they reached this wasteland near the Subotica city dump, the nearby border with Hungary had been closed. The last of their money went to a smuggler who promised to take them safely into Hungary. He disappeared with the cash.
An abandoned brick factory in Subotica, Serbia acts as a way station for migrants and refugees on their way to other countries in Europe. Both families and groups of young men stop to rest, possibly take a shower, then leave after no more than a few days time.
Now they are dependent on aid for everything. They have no funds to pay $20 per adult to take a bus to the border with Croatia.
Fareed speaks for them all when he says, “I cannot go back to Kabul. I must take my family and try (to go on).”
Dr. Aleksandar Evebvic, a physician with Doctors Without Borders, provided health to families at the brick factory before the border closed. At the time, 400 or 500 people passed through daily on their way to the border with Hungary. He says he expects that many refugees here will try to make an illegal crossing into Hungary; some may even try a dangerous river crossing at night.
He worries about the children.
“The problem is, there are lots of children here,” he says, “and they are traveling very far under hard conditions," Dr. Aleksandrar Evebvic
“The problem is, there are lots of children here,” he says, “and they are traveling very far under hard conditions. We have never had this quantity of people with so much need passing through the country.”
Dusanka Djurovic, a psychologist with Humanitarian Center for Integration and Tolerance (HCIT), a local aid group, says refugees at the brick factory tell her they are confused.
“They have come to a place where they don’t know how to go forward, yet they feel it’s impossible to go back,” she says.
“They have come to a place where they don’t know how to go forward, yet they feel it’s impossible to go back,” Dusanka Djurovic.
“Fear is the dominant emotion here,” she says. “There is so much uncertainty. They feel threatened and don’t know what to do.”
Her greatest concern is for refugee women, like Balnafshan, and their children.
Balnafshan and Fareed’s wife, Leeda, spend most of their time in their tents, which are backed up to 8-ft.-deep concrete pits that were once part of the brickworks and have bent and rusted iron bars in them. As long as the children stay in front of the tents, they are in sight and safe, but inevitably those black holes draw them like a magnet and they stand staring down into them.
There’s a rumor spreading through the people here that last week two young children went missing and were never found. All the adults in their group are watching out for the children, but still they are vulnerable in this place with its physical dangers and unknown people coming and going day and night.
“It hurts my heart to see people in need like this,” says Matthew Fantley, putting his hand over his heart. Matthew is a member of Calvary Chapel in Topola, 45 minutes south of Subotica. He is among his church’s volunteers who bring food to give to the refugees at the brick factory.
Church groups come daily to see that people who have come to the brick factory overnight are fed. Volunteers pour juice and hand out canned meat and fresh fruit.
The weather is getting colder at night, they say. In addition to the food they deliver, many of the refugees need jackets, blankets, and new shoes.
World Vision is responding to the refugee crisis in the Western Balkans by providing basic hygiene and food packages. World Vision also intends to expand its work to include providing child protection services.