Rigardu is no longer needed in Serbia, and so we have decided to end our humanitarian project in Subotica. The suitcases are already packed, the flat emptied and the transporter with some last volunteers and equipment on the way to Germany.
We have now been active in Serbia since March 2017 and have concentrated in particular on the hygienic care of at times up to 300 refugees. For this purpose, we are equipped with a system permanently installed in our transporter, enabling us to offer up to 100 showers a day. In addition, we provided refugees with freshly washed clothes, distributed hygiene articles such as toothbrushes and shavers, and offered a mobile phone charging station. Not least, we were often more than just the people handing out soap: Through our support we were able to show solidarity with refugees and give them the feeling that their situation matters to us.
Through our presence, we have also contributed to exposing human rights violations perpetrated by border guards on the external European border with Serbia.
Time and again, escape routes, whereabouts of refugees, but also the support of various governmental and non-governmental organizations have changed, so that we had to adapt the location of our projects. That is why we were first active in Subotica on the Serbian-Hungarian border, then on the Serbian-Croatian border in Šid and finally, since autumn 2017, back in Subotica.
But now the situation has changed fundamentally in recent months: The Serbian-Hungarian border is almost impossible to cross and even those who make it must expect to be apprehended and imprisoned in Hungary. That is why the so-called Balkan route has shifted south: Refugees are more and more trying to reach Croatia through Bosnia and Herzegovina. For us, this change means that only 10-30 people have benefited from our services in recent weeks.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, by the way, a voluntary support structure has already developed; several non-governmental organisations provide refugees with food, clothing, hygienic care and information.
Our project in Serbia cost us between 1000 and 1500 Euro of donation money per month. With this amount we bought hygiene products, paid the water bill, bought equipment (washing machines, shower tents, etc.) and financed our transporter. In the meantime, our volunteers paid the costs for accommodation and meals out of their own pockets.
It is understandable that the financial expenditure compared to the number of refugees in Subotica has been relatively high recently. Nevertheless, our work is not profit-oriented and neither do we evaluate our work on the basis of such criteria. As long as there is at least one person who depends on our services, we would do everything we can not to abandon them. Fortunately we were not alone in Subotica; the Spanish organisation Escuela con Alma was also active there to provide refugees with food. The collaboration between Escuela con Alma and Rigardu was close and always trusting. Therefore we are pleased that Escuela con Alma will continue our project as long as it is necessary! Due to the low number of refugees in Subotica, it is possible to offer both services at the same time. Naturally, we have passed on the necessary material.
For many of us who were involved, the end of our project in Serbia is also linked to the challenge of letting go. Letting go of a project that, for a year and a half, has kept us occupied, has challenged and sometimes despaired us. Letting go of a place with which we connect intense experiences and friendships. Letting go of the feeling that we can really do something against all the bullshit going on in our world.
But we also know that this decision is a sensible and wise one. And of course, in addition to our political education work in Germany and the denunciation of human rights violations at the EU’s external borders, we have long been working to develop new activities. A humanitarian project in Bosnia and Herzegovina is equally conceivable as other ideas and methods to improve the humanitarian situation of refugees. It will definitely not get boring and it won’t be long before you hear of us!
Written by Martin, translated by Max