This week Samaritan’s Purse has teams on the ground in several different European countries working in partnership with local church networks to deliver emergency relief to thousands of refugees currently making their further north into Europe.
Official statistics estimate a daily throughput (arrival and departure) of 2,500-3,000 people at this well publicized location in Serbia on the present refugee trail north. This is the point at which the road runs out and where the Hungarian border can only be accessed along an old railway track. Some arrive here having already walked the length of the country. But for others—those who have had the means to pay for a vehicle thus far—it is where they must exit and begin walking.Help Refugees in Europe
From a steady stream of taxis and coaches spill hundreds (yes, up to 150 people are crammed into some of the buses) of young men, older men, and families. This afternoon two police cars, a local church presence, and the Samaritan’s Purse distribution point were the only markers on this crucial point in the refugees’ journey. People don’t stay here long. They don’t stay anywhere long. On and on and on they go. With a local Baptist church pastor, we distributed food and non-food items carefully selected by our partners on the ground. As expected, hygiene items were snapped up with particularly grateful thanks.
Watching the steady stream of people passing our simple distribution point was mesmerizing. Overwhelming. Whenever I saw a family with infants and toddlers, I was reminded of Matthew 2, and the journey south that Jesus made as a baby. Once again these days, weeping and great mourning is heard; mothers weeping for their children and refusing to be comforted, because some of them are no more. But this time they are fleeing north. North into what? North into where? Wherever I could find English speakers I abandoned my post and walked a little way with them.
A Syrian Family’s Story
Farid (not his real name) is a father of four. This family tumbled out of a taxi they had shared with another family, and he gathered his children together, a young son and two teenage girls.
“We are from Aleppo (Syria),” he said. “I am an engineer and an interior designer.”
I was not surprised. There was a creative style and dignity about him, even in these conditions.
“I know Europe well. I have travelled to several European countries. My sister lives in London and my brother in Paris. But I’d never even thought of leaving Syria,” he said, “and even now, I’m waiting for the day I can return.”
“But what could I do? We firstly went to Istanbul and I looked for work, but you have to speak Turkish to have any chance. My wife was exhausted so we agreed she would stay there and rest awhile, and I would bring the family into Europe.”
His 16-year-old daughter took up the story with an openness, an innocence, and a trust in her voice that, considering her circumstances, seemed to me extraordinary.
“We crossed a huge river and then the sea. It was at night. I was so scared. I cried and cried for hours. We’ve been travelling now for two weeks,” she said.
“I cried and cried for hours.”
“Where are you heading for?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Where do you think we should go?” she asked me, before adding, “I like the sound of Holland, but my father thinks maybe Finland.”
In truth, they had no idea. I’ve never before had a complete stranger ask me with total sincerity where she should spend the rest of her life.
Turning back to her father, I commented on just how many people I’d met today who were from Aleppo.
“I know,” he replied, “we keep seeing people we knew from our neighborhood.”
I asked him what he’d left behind in Aleppo.
“Nothing,” he said. “Everything was bombed. My house, my new car, my land, my father…”
It was then that his voice cracked, and he swung his head down and away, taking a few steps out of reach of our conversation, completely unable to say any more.