The Syrian Refugee Crisis is making headlines around the world. Experts are estimating that as many as 4 million people are fleeing the embattled nation, many of them on foot, and traveling thousands of kilometers to seek refuge in other countries.
Recently I was able to make contact with a relief worker on the ground in Croatia named Marko Gregovic. He was able to give us a first person account of what is happening with the thousands of refugees that he sees on a daily basis.
Here is what he told us.
Gregovic’s descriptions of the refugees shatter many of the stereotypes that many in the West have grabbed onto in covering the Syrian exodus.
“These are people just like you or me” Gregovic said, “They have college degrees. Many of them are engineers, or doctors, or nurses. They aren’t poor or uneducated. They just needed to get out and we need to help them”.
“Most of the refugees are young men” Gregovic explained, “This makes sense since the people that make it to us often have to have crossed 3000 kilometers or so on foot. Typically only healthy young men can manage the journey”.
A camp has been set up just a few hours drive from Gregovic’s hometown and he visits there often with other relief workers.
“The camp looks like a nightmare” Gregovic said citing the barbed wire and military presence as reasons for discomfort amongst the refugees.
However, according to Gregovic, things could be much worse.
“There are about 80,000 people in the camp at any given time” Gregovic told Carbonated.tv, “Most of them are just there to be registered and rest for a day. I’ve heard things are much worse in Turkey, Macedonia, or Lebanon where there are many more people and the conflict is worse”.
Within the camp there are the usual representatives from giant relief organizations such as the Red Cross but Gregovic mentioned that they are sometimes more trouble than they are worth.
“The Red Cross is not well organized here. Doctors Without Borders and other groups are doing better but I have heard many people complain that the Red Cross is not well organized and are taking a very long time to distribute their supplies,” Gregovic said.
What’s being done?
In the face of lackluster results from the Red Cross Gregovic has seen private citizens rise up to the challenge of caring for their new neighbors.
“Ordinary citizens are doing most of the work. They are in the camps handing out food and clothes. They are organizing the people and helping them to exit the camps with enough to make it to their next destination. It really is quite something to see,” Gregovic said.
The refugees in Croatia are better off than most, and Gregovic pointed out quickly that they actually have money to get food and water. What they are lacking are more advanced amenities.
“Wi-Fi availability has been a surprisingly big concern” Gregovic said, “These people need the internet to contact those they left behind. Phone chargers as well are being distributed in large numbers”.
Gregovic himself is involved in an Indiegogo Campaign to provide mothers of small children baby slings with which to carry their children.
“The food and water they can get. What they can’t get are these slings. We’ve met a lot of them and this is what they need in order to keep going. It is very hard to travel that far with an infant in your arms” Gregovic said.
“All they ask us for are busses” Gregovic said with a laugh. “They just want to get out. I understand that they don’t want to stay here but busses are very hard to get."
The motivation for the majority of refugees that Gregovic has met in Croatia is to reach the more developed countries like Germany and then send for their families once they have found work there.
Gregovic explained that the refugees desire to leave makes sense due to Croatia’s high unemployment numbers (30 percent for adults and 50 percent for youth). And also countries like Germany or Denmark have very advanced refugee assimilation programs.
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“We have plenty of space for them here. But in Germany they can receive language lessons, education, government assistance all for free,” Gregorvic said.
Gregovic has agreed to provide Carbonated.TV with future updates from the field. Check back regularly for updates on the crisis as it develops.