Today was our first day volunteering at the camp in Tabanovce, Macedonia. This has become the required stop for Syrian, Afghani, and Iraqi refugees as they take their journey from fear, war, and persecution. Anywhere from 500-10,000 pass through here per day, paying 25 Euro each for a 4-hour train through Macedonia. Incidentally, this passage used to cost about 2-3 Euro before the migration began.
Usually they come with a passenger train. But today I met Akram, who with his pregnant wife, son, daughter and 7 other extended family, had been tricked by a criminal in Greece into paying almost 1500 Euro to be stowed away into the shipping container of a freight train. This train actually led to the same place as the normal refugee train. Without having necessary stamps on their documents, however, Akram and his band of 11 family faced the harrowing fact that they now had to return back to Greece to get those proper stamps, and they were now 1500 Euro closer to running completely out of funds.
On top of that, most of their belongings had been lost at sea during a near-deadly boat crossing from Turkey into Greece. During this experience, the boat motor died, and the boat itself literally broke off on one side. At some points during those three hours of hell in the water, they were literally up to their necks. Somehow they made it to the Greek island of Lesbos.
The rest of the day at camp was more “normal”, with a train of 400 refugees arriving. The organization through which we are volunteering, along with about a dozen others, combined forces to provide food, water, shoes, clothing, warmth, and a little bit of emotional comfort. Some of the camp workers were there specifically to give the women and children a few moments of rest and distraction.
Within an hour of the train arriving, 90% of the 400 refugees were beginning their walk – a 4 mile hike to the Serbian border crossing. In the dark. With bags strapped to shoulders and spines. Many with babies, toddlers, and other kids. One of the women had a one-week old baby.
A Mercy Corp volunteer was there to drive those too frail to walk – both the elderly and those who had been injured during their countries’ civil wars.
When Jesus said, “As you cared for one of the least of these my brothers, you cared for me” – when He said this…if He didn’t mean people like Akram, then I’m at a loss as to whom He meant.
Tony Burrell is the Executive Director for The Welcome Network. The Welcome Network is a gospel-driven organization that mobilizes churches to serve the vulnerable, specifically immigrants and refugees based in Northwest Indiana. He is currently serving at the Tabanovce refugee camp at the border of Macedonia and Serbia. Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
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