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Europe's migration crisis: Syrian refugees' long journeys, long nights

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Europe's migration crisis: Syrian refugees' long journeys, long nights
​Fadi, a Syrian refugee, (third from right) sits among family members in a park in Belgrade, Serbia. They've traveled for 20 days heading to Europe.


It’s the coming night that worries Fadi, a former physics professor from Syria, and his family.

Gray clouds crowd the sky; it looks like rain. In a park in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, Fadi and his family members huddle together on the one thing they own: a thin blanket.

Thousands of refugees and migrants enter Serbia every day on the way to other parts of Europe. Many, like Fadi, stay in Belgrade parks for a few days before continuing their arduous journey to escape war and violence.

“Everything got destroyed in Syria. War, horrible war,” Fadi says. 

Arduous journey

The family — Zakariya, 25; his cousin, Ahmed Ibrahim, 12; Betul, 24; and Ghaidaa, 20 — had trekked 20 days to reach Belgrade. It was a difficult journey that took them through Turkey, Greece, and Macedonia.

In Greece, they were robbed three times. “Our tent, our shoes, and our money were stolen,” says Ahmed. 
 
In Macedonia, police beat them. They had to walk six hours to reach the Serbian border. There they boarded a bus that brought them to Belgrade. 
 
Belgrade marks a short pause; their journey is not finished. Zakariya wants to go to Sweden or Germany where they can rebuild a life for themselves. He hopes to continue his geography studies.
 
Not everyone looks forward to starting over. “I want to go back to Syria,” Ahmed says in a quiet voice.

“When he speaks to his parents on the phone, he cries,” says Fadi. 
 
Ahmed had to leave his parents and five siblings in Syria. There was not enough money for his whole family to leave the country, Zakariya explains.

"It is cheaper to get children out of Syria; it costs half of the price of an adult," he says.

No going back
 
Another overnight park resident, Muhammed, 72, crossed Macedonia on foot and entered Serbia in hopes of reaching Austria, where his sons live.   

Muhammed sits on a park bench in Belgrade with two of his grandchildren, boys ages 2 and 1, while his daughter-in-law sits nearby, repairing a little red jacket for one of them.

Getting through the night is rough on them.

They’ve spread pieces of cardboard on the ground and covered them with a thin, striped blanket. This is where they slept the night before. 
 
“It was cold, and we didn't have blankets to cover ourselves,” says Muhammed. “It is very difficult.” 
 
After being a refugee in Lebanon for three years, Muhammed returned to Syria. As violence there worsened, he had to leave again. His home in Syria was destroyed.

Eight months ago, he and his family escaped to Turkey. They stayed for a while, then continued to Greece.

“That was the hardest — traveling by sea,” he says.“We were in a small rubber boat and traveled for eight hours. I was afraid for my life. Had the waves been bigger, we could have drowned.”
 
World Vision responds to refugees' needs

World Vision is distributing basic hygiene and food packages to assist families traveling through Serbia on the refugee route. The organization is preparing to expand its work to include child protection services.
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