New Years Eve – Presevo: More than 4,000 refugees come through

It never gets above -5c today, and from 0800 until we leave at 1700 we have a continuous stream of new arrivals. More than 2,700 arrive by 1700 alone – and well over 4,000 by midnight.

I’ve never seen it this busy. This often happens if a strike or disruption of the refugees' route causes them to get held up for a day; everyone who would have come that day combines with those for the day after.

There are so many unique people and situations that come through every day. Some of them are dramatic: one family of about 20 had a little boy with them who was clearly ill, and not very reactive to anything around him. I took him and his older brother, who was leading the entire group, to the medical tent and then found a UNHCR Farsi interpreter for the medical team to talk to the boy. He got a shot, and was given some medication for the next few days and looked much better once he left. The family was really grateful. We get at least one, and often several, cases like this each day whom we have to take to the doctors – staffed by Medecins sans Frontieres and the Serbian Red Cross with some help, in the case of the kids, by UNICEF. Their job is tough – they keep getting colds themselves and then have to go on leave to avoid giving their own illnesses to their already-ill patients. 

I did get to spend a while chatting with Mr. Nikic, whom I mentioned in my first post of the trip.  I have some ideas for how the big technology companies I work with could help out – especially things like camp-wide WiFi access (right now it only works in a small area) and some apps that could provide information on the whole route for migrants on the services offered in each camp and details of the transportation along the route.

He – and everyone else – is clearly aware that the flow of refugees is not going to stop for the foreseeable future. I’ve heard private comments from some of the big NGOs suggesting that the numbers for all of 2016 – barring some major change in the war in Syria – could be double or triple those of 2015. That would mean 2 to 3 million people coming to Europe in one year. Given there are six million Syrians displaced yet still inside Syria it is – sadly – easy to imagine numbers like these though God knows what Europe will do with such vast numbers. How on Earth a Europe already divided over one million arrivals in 2015 will deal with so many more I have no idea. Clearly, our leaders, and all of us, have got to get our act together. 

We ate lunch in individual shifts. The registration tent only holds so many people and given the volume that meant we had a line that went outside of our (heated since the last week) tent into the cold, and we wanted to try and get the line inside to help reduce exposure of the migrants to the low temperatures. We didn’t manage that until about 1600.

I made a few runs to the Remar tent behind us for tea to keep my colleagues from IOM, and the police in the tent managing crowd control, warm. Even with the heat running it remained relatively cold in the tent; it is just too cold outside. Remar are really terrific: this wonderful, all-volunteer force of young people provides hot soup and hot sweet tea for the endless stream of people coming through – and those of us who work the camp. 

Just another day helping a few thousand more people on their way across Europe. It will certainly change Europe forever – as it will change those who are arriving. It is up to all of us - those arriving and us Europeans - to see to it that it is a positive change.