Volunteer Story

At the dawn of my thirties, I wanted to see the world. A genuine bicycle touring enthusiast, I took my bike in March 2016 with my friend David and we left France toward Eastern Europe, not knowing what exactly lay in store. When we arrived in Belgrade, Serbia, we realised what the situation of migrants and refugees was like. They were everywhere; in the parks, in the community centres, on the streets etc.

It was obvious that we could not sit idly by. We had to get involved in one way or another; not because everyone was doing it, but because it was needed. I just said to myself -  if I am forced to leave my house one day for political or economic reasons, I would like people on my way to help me.

There is nothing better than helping the most vulnerable, hearing their stories and being there for them without expecting anything in return. The meetings are rich and very friendly. The food distribution in the park of the Belgrade bus station normally goes well, despite the rain and heat. On the other hand, it breaks my heart to see that I can do nothing in the long run for these hundreds of migrants and refugees due to restrictive procedures and policies put in place.

This first voluntary humanitarian work made me think about a lot of things. Being a humanitarian wokrer is not a leisure activity, it is a vocation. You either have it or you don’t. You must have this little something within you as any social worker or psychologist who helps people in distress on a daily basis. Refugees/migrants/human beings are not the latest fashion trend and cannot be compared to any recently purchased item that is good to be published on Facebook. It's unfortunate that some people sometimes forget this.

I waited almost 10 months before returning to humanitarian work. I chose to do it with Legis in Macedonia. In order to gain access to the Tabanovtse tranzit camp in Macedonia, we had to ask for a permit one month in advance. Not everyone can be a volunteer in Macedonia, especially not in the refugee camps. Legis accompanied us and explained to us in detail the situation of refugees in Macedonia and the functioning of the refugee camp. This was the first time for me. I appreciated Legis’ support provided to volunteers, as well as for refugees and their staff on the ground.

First observation: the Tabanovtse camp is very calm, as the majority of migrants continue their journey to Serbia or Greece. There are only around 20 refugees/migrants who have lived there for 3, 4, 6, 8 months. Our main role with the Legis team is to accompany them and be with them throughout the activities to brighten up their daily routine. During the first days, we try to get to know them better by playing cards, volleyball, ping-pong etc. We drink coffee and tea with far too much sugar. An experience that gives way to laughter, misunderstandings, fun and tears. We are also getting to know the other NGOs’ staff, whilst discussing in depth with refugees/migrants. Some people only wish to go to Western Europe. Others have no plan as they were pushed back several times at the Hungarian border by the police. Their options are limited.

How am I supposed to help them, but above all, understand their migration, their fear, their anxiety at such a dead end?

I really wish I could solve all their problems, but as miracles rarely happen these days, one can only hope that Legis continues its remarkable work on the ground by meeting the primary needs of these wonderful and uprooted human beings. A month later, we finished our volunteer work at the Tabanovtse transit camp, saying goodbye to all the dedicated workers who were there and to the twenty refugees/migrants with no future in Macedonia who hoped, without much hope, that the future will be good for them.

By: Laurie Cote Sarrazin