Prepared:APC Illustration: REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
Belgrade, April 19 – With the closing of the Balkan route about 8000 people from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan…are stuck in Serbia. About 6000 are in reception and asylum centers, far from the public’s eyes. And behind the doors of these centers there are big personal dramas. The public does not see them, as they do not see any longer, the true face of the migrant tragedy that brought these people to Serbia as the last door before entering the EU. It is crammed with widely-circulated media reports that the problems of refugees and migrants “who do not want to stay here” are solved because “they are placed in a safe and warm place, have food and medical help…
But life in the reception centers, some which are not allowed to freely move around, such as in Presevo, is cruel and depressing.
The people we talk to, they speak to us about their troubles, on lonely boring days, without content, lack of intimacy, bad food, hygiene, hopelessness. They have already one through severe troubles as they came to Serbia, they were detained, intimidated, blackmailed…now they can not see their goals anymore or that they are near it, but that it is even further away. Many are separated from their parents, brothers or some other relative who is already in a European country and they hardly understand that they can not break through even with the help of the money they send to them. And they are trying, ten or more time to cross, over wire, the frozen Tisa, hiding in trucks, or beneath it, on foot…Hungary unleashes dogs on them, Croatia turns them back to Serbia…
All of this takes its toll. A young man recently hung himself in Adasevci and if a more serious study was done, it would probably be determined that most of these people have a diagnosis of depression, and a significant percentage is suicidal.
Arezo is 24 years old, she is the mother of three children, and is from Afghanistan. We met her at a reception center in Serbia where she was placed and she attempted suicide.
She started off with her husband and children before the closing of the route. She says, no one then expected that the borders would be closed, although everyone was worried of this happening. Before this, she was stuck in Greece for nine months. She did not think that the journey would take so long. Now she sees no end to it.
For months she is here. She does not feel well. She tells us that she is constantly tired, she does not have strength to stand up, and has severe headaches.
She has become volatile. She has lost patience for her children, husband and for herself. It is most difficult for her children as they try to reach out to her, to draw some attention, and warmth from her…
„They tire me out and then I burst and I beat them. But afterwards I regret it and cry”.
Talking through her tears, and blaming herself, she thinks she is the worst mother in the world. She is the worst because she has no money for her kids looking for sweets and fruits and she cannot afford it, the worst because her children do not go to school, the worst because her daughter is crying because the other kids were making fun of her saying her mom is crazy, that shes the worst because she is the worst.
She begs for help.
She says she tried to commit suicide, and that she will try again in a months time. Her husband tries to help her, to motivate her to leave the room, to eat, but he has not been successful.
Arezo is convinced that nothing will make her happy and she will never feel better. She sees salvation only when having crossed the border. She thinks that when she reaches her goal she will feel at ease and peace.
She opens up in front of our psychologist, she cries, and pleads and finally agrees to seek professional help. We take her to a psychiatrist. Her legs trembling while we are climbing the stairs, the translator and psychologist are cheerful. holding her arm and rubbing her shoulder, whispering to her that she is brave, strong and that she will be better. She received therapy, antidepressants and anxiolytics.
After the examination we sit in a sunny cafeteria and we ask her what she wishes for.
She orders ice cream that she hasn’t had in a long time. She promises to take her medications, even though she feels they wont help her. We agree to go one step at a time, day by day, pill by pill. In returning to the camp we stop to buy ice cream for the children – everyone gets the same, strawberry ice cream cone so that they do not fight.
We follow her and share a look of anxiety between each other.
Adnan, aged 22, is from Syria and says he feels like a ping pong ball. We meet him at the reception center.
This is his second trip to Serbia. He tried to leave, arrived in Slovenia and then was returned back. He said it was at a time when the route was before closing, when they were looking for any reason to push a refugee back – “you have a passport, back! you were in Turkey, back! Europe does not want you, back!”
He says that he does not know of a person with worse luck than him. He asks sternly “how would it be for you if for 1 year and 10 months you lived in camps?”
The war began when he was 16 years old, he says the list of things he lost is too long. Lately he loses strength and hope. He shows our psychologist the scars and through them a fresh self-inflicted wound. He’s expecting shock, but then surprised by the reaction asks: “you’ve already seen this before?”
The psychologist confirms it. It looks like it was a test for him to continue. He talks about how he feels a great pressure that he think he will lose it, and that’s when he cuts his forearms. But only shortly. Afterwards, he is angry at himself that he is weak and he again fell to his knees.
He likes that he can talk about it.
The psychologist tells him about other people who have had the same problem as him. And about a boy who says “if my heart is already hurting then my hands do not need to hurt me”
Adnan relaxes, he understands that he is not the only one with these problems, he says he is aware that it is not good what he does, but that he can not control himself in the moment and he can’t find another solution. He feels lonely, rejected, disappointed, and betrayed.
At the next meeting with our psychologist he says “well, you came, we have to talk”. He shows a new, fresh wound, says he is ashamed and knows its wrong, but he did not know what else to do.
We support him and tell him that we understand.
Together we find new solutions – walks, football, speaking with a friend from the camp, speaking with a psychologist. He says he will try.
We are encouraging him, and at the same time we fear that maybe next time, Adnan will come along with a new wound. Maybe we will even find Arezo in bed spaced out from life…because in their lives, in the way they liv, nothing changes…
And life in the camps is raw, and empty and artificial. And every time we meet with these people, if we sit down to eat ice cream, hold a workshop, organize a program, show something new…we think about how the state does not have to be rich in order to change something here.