Al-Khair Foundation sent a team to Macedonia to deliver humanitarian aid to the refugees.
Samantha Ryder, Communications Officer, Al-Khair Foundation.
Hundreds of thousands of families are currently making their way across Europe from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and parts of northern Africa.
For years the vast majority have been living in the shadow of conflict, surrounded by fear, persecution and kidnapping.
They now find themselves part of an extraordinary chapter of human migration.
Along the way, they continue to face danger; risking their lives to cross the Aegean sea from Turkey to Greece, and now facing harsh temperatures as winter approaches.
For most of the journey so far they’ve travelled on their own but at times the volume of people marching alongside has been so big, they’ve been labelled ‘a crisis’.
Individually however, most are just like you or me. They want safety for their children and a peaceful existence.
As I wait at the railway station in Tabanovce, northern Macedonia, I can’t help but wonder who I will meet today.
The search for a better life
Pictured above, this family from Damascus has been travelling for a couple of weeks. They had lived in the Syrian capital for many years, but with the constant threat of war and more recently kidnapping, they tell me they made a choice to leave everything behind and flee.
A very determined mother and father packed a single bag and left with their triplet sons, daughter and their nephew – they knew they were heading to Sweden to join relatives there.
Now, they are even more aware of the long road ahead and the freezing temperatures they face. “But what else can we do???? says the father. “I’m just happy we made it this far,??? he says.
More importantly for the mother, the only question she has for me, “can the children learn English at school in Sweden???? I tell her yes, I believe they can. She lays a hand on my arm, squeezes gently and says with tears in her eyes, “thank you, thank you so much.???
Halfway across the world
This band of brothers, a sister and her husband have been travelling for a month. They left their home in Afghanistan to embark on a long, arduous journey through Iran, Turkey, Greece and into Macedonia, some of the way on foot they tell me.
They don’t want me to write their names.
“Our parents are back in Kabul because they are too weak to leave,??? they say.
“Look for a better life,??? is what the boys were told to do. The sister and her husband who are both older were told to look after them.
The youngest boy is 17 years old. He tells me he was at school but there was always a threat from “people with guns.??? He says his mother and father were more afraid for him than he was for himself.
They are busy eating, so I leave them to enjoy the bread and fruit snacks they’ve been given and I wish them well on their journey.
For the sake of a family
Amal, pictured wearing the red jumper was a dentist in Damascus until a few weeks ago. She is also eight and a half months pregnant and is travelling with her husband, Moffti and their three young children.
She approaches me as I take a photo of her young daughter who is playing in the dirt. She asks me for help in getting to the Serbian border. “I can’t walk any further,” she says, then I see why.
I tell her to sit while a colleague of mine calls to see if we can get a taxi for her. While waiting she tells me a little about her journey so far.
They left Damascus nine days ago, “it was very frightening in Damascus??? she says.
“I was scared for the safety of my children, my husband and my foetus.???
She explains that the hardest part was without a doubt the boat ride from Turkey to Greece.
“We were squashed into the boat like animals,??? she says. “It was very frightening, the children were crying, we didn’t know if we were going to make it to land.???
Unfortunately, the only distance taxi’s are allowed to go is an extra 300 metres from where we are. Amal thanks us for trying to help and sets off to walk the two kilometres to the Serbian border, hopefully they will reach before nightfall.
Although it was going to take a while, because she can’t walk far for long, Amal is strong and determined. The love she has for her children, she tells me, will keep her putting one foot in front of the other “until they are safe.???
Planning for the future
On this particular evening, the temperature has suddenly dropped and I find myself jumping up and down on the spot trying to keep warm.
A young boy, pictured above in the red jumper, approaches me and starts doing star jumps with me. I last about 30 seconds, he has much more energy than I have. From his pocket he takes a small fruit pod and gives it to me.
“Plant it,??? he says to me with a huge smile across his face, “then it grows,??? he says. Pointing to a small tree next to us he places his hand close to the floor to explain how the tree will grow.
“From small,??? he tells me, “to big,??? shouting the word big and jumping in the air, throwing his arms around excitedly.
His family who are standing close by, smile as he runs around. I learn they are from Syria and are travelling to Austria. They don’t yet know their final destination.
Few of the children fully understand where they are, or indeed why they are constantly on the move. It’s a small comfort when you see them smile.
The need to keep moving
This story has no picture to accompany it. The father is a journalist from Iraq and has asked me not to show him or his family. Like many other families, he is travelling with his wife and two children. However, this journey has been made even more difficult due to his eldest sons autism.
“The journey is tough,??? he tells me.
I ask to speak with him for a couple of minutes before they leave for Serbia, but he can only pause to chat briefly.
The boy is clinging to his father’s hand, pulling him away from me. He seems distressed and anxious to leave. Around us, many people are shouting and pushing.
“My son doesn’t understand what is happening,” he says.
“Have you eaten???? I ask him. It is cold with a bitter wind made even worse due to the exposed area.
“No problem,” he says to me. “Must continue, not stop.??? An attitude many of the refugees have adopted as they push on before the light fades.
And with that, they leave the platform to travel on foot to Serbia continuing their journey into Europe in the hope of finding a safe place to live.
As for me, I pack up my notepad and camera and also leave the platform. But unlike them, I’ll be back again tomorrow. I wonder who I’ll meet then?