Our Mission

At GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) we offer support to those seeking asylum in Gloucestershire, welcoming them when they arrive, advocating for them in their daily struggles, supporting them if they face being sent back as well as helping them adjust to their long term future if they are recognised as refugees.

Contact Information

Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (GARAS)
The Trust Centre
Falkner St
Gloucester
GL1 4SQ

Telephone: 01452 550528
email: info@garas.org.uk
www.garas.org.uk

Director
Adele Owen

Brotherhood and Unity?

September 18, 2015

One of our volunteers has recently returned from a trip to her native Serbia.  She travelled to Belgrade last Friday and you can read about her moving experience here:

Autumn is slowly arriving here in Serbia after months of oppressive heat. People have been looking forward to the long expected rain. But not everyone… Up to 5000 refugees mainly from the Middle East enter this small Balkan state daily on their way to the EU. Rain and cold weather will be yet another obstacle that they have to endure.

From central Serbia I am travelling by coach up north to the capital Belgrade on the main E75 motorway, just like hundreds of thousands of refugees are doing. I am taking a large laundry bag filled with warm clothing, jumpers, scarves, children’s clothes, nappies and toys carefully chosen by my children to give away.

My destination is Belgrade’s main coach station,which is an informal camping ground for the refugees. Although there are refugee reception centres in the country near the Macedonian and Hungarian borders, many choose not to go there and avoid registration. There is a fear that this may affect the asylum application in their chosen destination, Germany.

I get off the coach and right there in front of me are hundreds of refugees camping in the centre of the capital, in a small park next to the coach station. This has become the latest refuge on their desperate journey to Europe.

Tiny blue tents scattered around the park, must have been donated along the way somewhere, as they all look the same. I notice that some of the tents have open roofs and have been covered with sleeping bags and now wet cardboard to protect them from the rain and cold.

The green railings around the park are covered with clothes drying. It was raining here the whole day yesterday and people must have been soaked on their arrival. I see few young men washing their muddy feet in the park fountain. There are children around playing, excited to receive biscuits donated by a nearby shop. Men are mainly wearing flip flops and are wrapped in warm blankets. Some women are lying with children inside tents, keeping warm.

In the centre of the park there is a long queue of people waiting for blanket donations from the Red Cross. A makeshift kitchen is also organised by the Red Cross for hot meals.

I see quite a few Belgraders giving away donations of warm clothing, despite many of them living on bread line.

Soon after I enter the park carrying the large laundry bag, I am surrounded by men and women asking for children’s clothing in French, English, Russian… All bags for children which I organised by age and gender are gone within seconds. A little boy not older then 4, stands over the bag reaching towards a yellow soft duck toy. After all the clothes are gone, a young man asks me for an empty laundry bag to carry his newly donated blankets and thanks me in English.

Most of the people I meet are from Syria, some from Afghanistan and they all say that their final destination is Germany, some of whom have relatives there. When I ask them if they knew about the situation on the Hungarian side of the border and the border fence, they seem confident that there are no problems to get into Hungary.

After all, this is an example of the 21st century migrations. Most of the refugees I see seem well informed and are using mobile phones to communicate with their compatriots ahead of them at Hungarian border.

I leave the park and wish them welcome to my country and all the luck in the world on their journey. Soon, I see more and more refugees scattered around the streets surrounding the coach station. More fortunate ones can afford hotels and can afford to buy the food. I see some sitting on pavements. They are eating the traditional Balkan dish burek, made with feta cheese and filo pastry, that is not strange to them. After all, both the Middle East and the Balkans were part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries. A bit of food familiarity in these strange lands must be a relief.

In one of the back streets from the station, I pass the flea market where Roma people are trying to make a living, selling second hand goods and clothes. Many Roma in Serbia are refugees themselves living in shanty towns and these “latest” refugees seem to be their new client group. I see a young Middle Eastern man negotiating a price for a belt, as his newly donated trousers are too big for him.

After a few hours spent in Belgrade, I decide to go back home on a coach down south.

I travel through the vast fertile farmland of the Morava valley, scattered with sun-dried corn fields and colourful orchards. This is the exact route (but opposite direction) that refugees are taking on their way to Hungary.

However, with Hungary’s completion of the notorious border fence across the border with Serbia this route may change. Macedonia has just announced that is contemplating building a fence across the border with Greece. Bulgaria is in the final process of building a fence alongside the border with Turkey.

Serbia, which is still dealing with the challenges of its own refugee crisis during the nineties has been one of the few countries in the region that has respected the UN Refugee Convention.

Serbian tolerance for the Middle Eastern refugees, may be due to Yugoslavia’s strong political and economical ties with the Arabic nations during the Cold War , when they were together part of the Non-Aligned Movement.

It was during those times that this motorway was built. Back then, it was called “The Brotherhood and Unity”, the pride of old Yugoslavia, the connection of all of its people. Back in the nineties during the Balkan wars, millions of Yugoslavians became displaced, myself included. This motorway transported us in all directions.

At present, it has become part of, what is referred to by media as the “Western Balkan Route” that refugees are taking towards the EU.

The destiny of these people remains uncertain. They may be stranded here in the impoverished, war-torn Balkans and continue to be ignored by richer EU democracies.

I choose to believe that brotherhood towards refugees and the unity of European nations will prevail in this humanitarian crisis and that this motorway will be yet again allowed to transport those in need.

Danijela Djokic