Syrian refugees wait to start their lives again

Adasevci, SERBIA  – Looking at Fahad Tabuck’s face, it’s hard not to notice the combination of exhaustion, frustration and despair that seems permanently etched into his expression. The 38-year-old Syrian refugee looks at least a decade older, having spent the past two years fleeing from his home in Syria with his wife and five children.

Now, resting on a blanket at a roadside auto service centre near the Serbian town of Adasevci, Fahad tells of his decision to take his family away from the Syrian city of Aleppo during the fighting in 2013. The family spent two years in Turkey, but with little or no opportunities for jobs for himself and his wife, or for his children to obtain an education, he took the risky decision to seek sanctuary in Europe.

In early October, the family made the perilous journey by sea, crossing the Mediterranean and landing, relatively unscathed, in Greece. By this time, the group of travelers from Aleppo and other nearby Syrian cities had swelled to approximately 20. After crossing Greece and Macedonia by a combination of buses and walking, the group arrived at the Serbian frontier, where Fahad paid 55 Euros to be taken to the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

Fahad relates his story in a matter-of-fact manner, but other families in the group are more vocal and clearly angry about some of the things they have endured. They tell stories of children and mothers getting slapped by police for stepping out of line while waiting for transportation. Others mention being briefly detained in camps with no access to water or toilets for 24 hours.

Fahad maintains his calm demeanor as he listens. The weariness in his face over the toll the journey has taken on himself and his wife is clearly evident. But, his pride as a father can’t be denied as he calls his sons over to stand and be photographed. “We do everything for them, for the kids,” he tells us as he lines up his three eldest boys: Muhammad, 9; Mahmood, 8, and Mahmood Asemka, 12, obediently line up to stand beside their father. Despite all they have endured, the boys look well-dressed and in good health, which is more than can be said for other refugee children in Adasevci on this day.

Soon Fahad and his family will reboard the buses for the next leg of their journey. They and thousands of other refugees who pass through this part of Serbia will take with them some food, water and sanitary supplies provided by World Vision. Over the past several weeks, this assistance has benefited more than 70,000 refugees. In the coming days, World Vision plans to open a new Child-friendly Space at Adasevci, providing children with toys, crafts and games, giving them a safe place to play and, however briefly, allowing them to be kids once again.

Fahad says he wants to take his children to Germany, where they can hopefully get back into school and he can find a job. If Germany won’t allow them to enter, he says he will find another place, as long as he is allowed to work.

“We want to work,” he tells us. “We want a new life somewhere else.”

World Vision is responding to the refugee crisis in the Western Balkans by providing basic hygiene and food packages as well as child protection services.