Volunteering in a refugee camp


– Jrabat, jrabat, – demand few men around me.
– I don’t have jrabat anymore, sorry, – I answer them.
– Jrabat, jrabat.    

Jrabat in Arabic language is socks and these people are refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. I spent few days with them volunteering in a refugee camp in Slavonski Brod, Croatia.

Every few hours or less a sound of the train greets us from a distance. Soon you can see the train with dozens of eyes looking through the windows. We wave to the passengers, they wave back and shout „Hello“.

One Swiss guy, who is volunteering together, call the new arrivals „our guests“. Later, I also start to use this expression.

When our guests come out of the train, they immediately go to register and have their documents checked. Next, they are provided with food, drinks, raincoats, blankets and other aid. There are few organizations that take care after the welfare of the newcomers and tons of policemen. Policemen are not always in a good mood, they shout and act with people quite harshly, so volunteers try to keep the balance, spread the good vibes and positivity.

Later our guests usually go to the „sectors“ – a big sheds with hundreds of berths, where they spend few hours, till the next train. There were also some cases, when people boarded to the train immediately after registration and left Croatia.

Sectors are the places, where I start my work. I walk between the berths alive with people and ask, how are they, do they need a doctor or clothes. They all ask for the same things: shoes, gloves and socks. „I soaked by shoes in the sea“, – says one man. And there are lots of people like him. Some of them don‘t even have shoes or they are tore. These poor people spent a lot of time walking, so when I see their shrunken, bloated feet with blisters, I have to push my emotions deeper in order to continue my tasks. The smells are also intense.

Guests tell me the stories about freezing in the trains with not enough space to sit down. Now their life fit in a few bags.

There are many children in the camp, they stare curiously at the volunteers running around with their bright waistcoats. Some of them wear dirty clothes, others are not very well dressed for European November. I give them candies and few know how to say „thank you“. To take care after women and children is our priority. Some of our guests talk English fluently, so if I need to communicate with somebody who doesn‘t speak, I just call any random guy and ask to translate.

I write some requests into my phone and run to the storage to look for the things people asked. Sometimes, I return and can‘t find a person to whom I was bringing something. Soon we run out of socks, shoes and gloves. We don‘t know when the new supply will arrive, but people are still asking and asking for the stuff. We don‘t run out only of trousers, pullovers and jackets – there are plenty of them. Sometimes I fill my bag only with them and go to the sector, where people literally dive into it, taking everything, without even considering do they really need it. I wonder, if I would act differently in their situation – being far from home and not knowing what will happen next.

It happened few times that people refused the clothes I was offering to them, by saying „I don‘t like this colour“ or „It‘s not nice“. I have to admit, I was a bit annoyed. After our guests left to the train, we found many clothes around the sector. Even boots that are the most valuable item here.

– If it‘s a charity, then I don‘t want it, if it‘s a gift, then it‘s ok, – says one middle aged guy, after I offer him a hat.
– It‘s a gift, – I assure him. He takes the hat and thanks me.

I was surprised to find a lot of volunteers in the camp from all around the Europe: Germany, Switzerland, France, Norway, Austria, Croatia and many other countries. Some of them came to help, even for a few days. Others managed to collect some clothes in their countries and arrived with their own cars. Without any reward.

I asked Ali, a refugee from Afghanistan, how long did it take for him to reach Croatia. I was shocked to find out that it took around 2 months. A part of the route he was walking. He said that he almost ran out of money and is afraid what will be next. Apparently, in some camps in other countries, the people were asked to pay – a camp in Croatia is anything like that.

Most of ours guests want to go to Germany. Police randomly take fingerprints from a few people and make them worry is everything fine. I assure them that it’s just a regular procedure.

I used to take morning shifts from 6 a. m. to 14 p. m. I stayed in a flat with at least ten other volunteers. There were not enough beds for all of us, so we used to share them: those who just came back from the shift, took over the beds of the ones who just left for the shift. The weather was rainy, so some of us were sharing rubber boots as well.

When the train departures to Slovenia, we wave to our guests and wish them a good trip. They wave back and say „Thank you“. It‘s time to organize our storage and wait for another train.