Children fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, face a race against the clock as freezing temperatures and shortages of aid and shelter set in.
Upwards of 5,000 people are crossing the Serbian-Croatian border daily. Many are heading to Germany, where Plan International is working with Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe (St. John Accident Assistance) to ensure children receive the support and care they need when they arrive.
Johanniter is taking care of 1,000 refugees in Hamburg. Plan International Germany specialists are training Johanniter staff to meet the specific needs of refugee children, with a focus on child protection and psychosocial assistance.
Children seeking refuge
In these photos refugee children travelling across Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia describe what is happening to them as they travel towards northern Europe.
Selam, 10, her parents and two siblings have just got off the crowded train that took them through Macedonia and are getting ready for a 45 minute walk through no-man’s land to Serbia.
Selam says they left Damascus because of the bombs. The boat taking them to Greece was too small and it sank two hours after they left the Turkish coast. They were rescued by the Greek coastguard, who transported them to the island of Lesbos. For Selam, the bombs in Damascus were worse than the sinking boat.
The family is headed for Sweden, where Selam dreams of becoming a nurse. She has learned to say one sentence in English: “I love Sweden.”
Yusef, 9, is soaked and shivering. His lips are blue after he crossed a river of muddy rainwater at the border between Macedonia and Serbia. It’s been three hours and Yusef, his mother and baby sister are still waiting in line to get the travel permit needed to continue towards Croatia. His father stayed in Syria.
Yusef says this trip is “like horror”. The scariest part was the rubber boat he and more than 40 others squeezed into to cross to a Greek island from Turkey.
He loved mathematics in school in Damascus, but he doesn’t miss his school in Syria. “Syria is not a beautiful place to live,” he says. He is looking forward to going to school in Germany. ”In Germany there are rules. And a government.”
Many young children queue on their own, keeping warm in whatever they can, before they embark on the next stage of their journey.
Mohammed, 11, and Abdullah, 12, sit in the back of a warm, humid bus going to the Croatian border town Sid, a seven-hour trip from the Serbian town of Presevo. Best friends, they used to be neighbours in Damascus.
This is their eighth day of travelling. They’ve just waited six hours to get the paper that lets them travel through Serbia. “It was so, so cold,” says Mohammed.
They will arrive at the Croatian border in the middle of the night. There awaits another walk, across another border. Their goal? Germany.
In the Serbian village of Miratovac, Kale and her husband Karwan are tired and soaked from the rain, having just crossed the border from Macedonia on foot. They fled Syria two months ago. Their home was destroyed and most of their city is flattened.
Their children Lara and Vanya are quiet, but follow the conversation with curious eyes. They have been afraid many times during the trip, their parents say. “They cry, of course they cry. We were all scared. I cried, my wife cried,” says Karwan.
Children live in hope that the next stage of their journey is one step closer to their destination, where help and support from orgnisations such as Plan International awaits them.
Plan International’s refugee response
Plan International is responding directly to the needs of Syrian refugees in Egypt and is working though partners to provide assistance in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
The organisation is also deploying experienced emergency response staff in Jordan and Turkey to begin to assist Syrian refugees in both countries.