Dimitrovgrad, Serbia

And the easiest way … The closest exit to the hell of Bulgaria was 40km East from Sofia, at the Serbian frontieres.
The little city of dimitrovgrad is the first places where the refugees could crash after crossing illegally the Bulgarian border and entering Serbia.
More a village than a city, the place is settled in a valley, surrounded by hills and mountains.
The only specificity of the town was its train station and its police station which made the place the first check point and “camp” in Serbia.
The refugees were coming to dimitrovgrad mostly by foot but some of them were arriving by taxis as they were helped to reach the place by a local restaurant holder who was the first to be in contact with them after their forest crossing.
Surprisingly, the man had spent 10 years working in lybia and could speak Arabic which made him quite useful for the migrants.
And he was letting the weak and exhausted travellers to rest in his restaurant and to eat a little something before leaving for dimitrovgrad.
And of course he was in troubles with police … He told me his story in the universal body language “police” “bad” “troubles” … No need for more explanations, I knew what the story was about and somehow it made me sad to realise again that you always start being in troubles once you start helping and being human …

And I’ve been in trouble many times being checked for human trafficking accusations as I was giving lift to refugees from the camps to the train station or from the city center to the camps or whatever …
I understood and truly took responsibility of my acts and I was even arguing with other volunteers about it… To some of them this was truly irresponsible and risky and I understand that as well… As part and member of a NGO you could not do whatever you wanted as the organisation was somehow responsible for your actions, so it could put the whole business in troubles. But taking this responsibility by myself I was assuming the fact that I was helping as individual and not as member of an organisation, as sometimes you have better doing the stuff by your own.
And here in Dimitrovgrad, the authorities were stronger, less easy going than the other places I used to work in.

The check point was Police driven and NGOs were not allowed to enter the area … only few of them (always the biggest with the more money) were enabled to operate around the police station were the precarious camp and the registration area were settled.
The other groups like Praxis, Danish refugees Council, Info Park or I’m Human Organisation (the one I was part of) had to wait and to operate outside of the place …

We were standing at the fences, watching these people being checked, stamped, registered, sent to the camp and either sent back to Bulgaria or allowed to keep going further … and whatever would happen in front of us … we could not do anything.
Most of the time, we were waiting for the refugees to come to meet us at the gate (if they were allowed to do so) to get to know their needs, story, etc …
A some point, we would bring them the goods they were asking for, such as clothes, medicines, foods etc … working closely and efficiently with the guys from Praxis organisation.

And somehow, I’m Human Organisation was doing well.
By the time I first met them, they were still operating outside the camp settled in a little van like mine that was rearrange as a little donations container.
That was rude regarding the usual weather here in dimitrovgrad … rainy days, cold wind and freezing night …
But, when I arrived to volunteer with them a week after, Tarek (the head of operations and founder of the organisation) had succeeded to bring a proper container and to set up an efficient storage space, gathering area etc … for the organisation.
And IHO had a bunch of volunteer involved as well …
The headquarter of the NGO was a house near by the train station of Dimitrovgrad were the volunteer could gather, eat and rest.
By the time I was working there, we were ruffly 8 volunteers, coming from Bosnia, Hungary, Argentina, Poland, Italy, Germany, Serbia … and France.

Though I didn’t wanted to bother them with accommodation and place to stay in the house and I spent this all time sleeping in the van as I used to.
I could say that I get used to deal with precarious situation and to sleep almost in every condition, almost everywhere … and there was one of my rudest stay as the temperatures were pretty low by night and the weather sucked by day … I was going from being completely wet to completely frozen.
Some early morning shifts were so cold that you could barely move your fingers or feel your feet.

Still we were keeping busy and we were carrying on, advising refugees, accompanying them all along their process, from the arriving at the camp to the leaving at the train station for the ones who could make it through Serbia and to continue their journey.
The train from Dimitrovgrad was going to Belgrade, passing by Nis and was a 9 hours train that cost to the refugees around 15E for those who could afford it.
If no train were leaving, the refugees who’s been “allowed” to move forward and received their documents, could take the bus which was more expensive.
But anyway, either by train or bus … less and less refugees were authorised to continue … only few of them (only Syrian and Iraqis) were still crossing safely …
The other, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Moroccan, Iranian, etc … were just sent back to Bulgaria straight away.

And the situation was getting worse, and even if we truly tried to help them passing through, we couldn’t see any improvement … any hope for them to reach their goal.
And I was feeling shit not being able to tell them that things were going to be alright … of course not …
We were as lost as they were, enable to figure what was going on, enable to give them any informations as everything was also blurry and unclear to us.

And I left the town with few hopes but still, keeping going to the next step of my journey; The shooting of the music video for the Macedonian band Khara which was also composing the soundtrack of this documentary and then Belgrade the capital of Serbia.

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