I’ve now been in Belgrade Serbia for three days; I arrived on Wednesday 13th first thing in the morning after my flight from Gatwick to Belgrade via Istanbul where I had to wait for 8hrs between flights.
I flew by Turkish Airlines who were awesome! I really mean that, the plane was very comfortable, the seats were very comfy and the on board food was really good too! For those of you that remember my blog about my flight from Heathrow to Lesvos with Aegean Airlines will remember I had a really crap flight with delays after delays and the flight was horrible! So this was a pleasant flight that I was very happy with.
Arriving at Belgrade Airport, it was small, lots of police and from what I saw of it I was thinking it might have been an old airbase that they turned into a civilian airport, but I’m not sure.
There was a shuttle bus to take me to the hotel which was very cheap, just 3euros, my first experience of how cheap many things are here in Serbia. Though if you ask the local population they would disagree with it being cheap as the average wage is only 300euros per month.
Checking into the hotel, I show my passport as the hotel then inform the police you are here in the city. Everyone arriving in Serbia have to give their details to the police within the first 24hrs, if you’re not checking into a hotel, you have to go to a police station yourself.
After checking into my hotel – Hotel Slavija, which although basic with decor that is very out of date, it’s nice, the staff are very friendly and speak very good English, it’s very cheap! I’m paying just £12per night including breakfast and a double room with free wifi, so you can’t really go wrong with staying here. Try getting a hotel in London for £12per night…
So after checking in and sorting myself out, I met up with a new friend I’ve made from the Serbian Embassy in London who has been great helping me link up with officials here in Serbia. We met at a lovely cafe close to my hotel and I was met by Emilija, my Embassy contact and two of her friends, one of which volunteers for the Asylum Protection Centre in Belgrade who gave me the contact details of the organisation.
Thursday, I went for a little run in the morning before breakfast and then, headed out for a look around to orientate myself and get to know the city a bit and then went to meet up with the Asylum Protection Centre where I met with their legal expert for the refugees Olga who was really helpful and is putting me in touch with the organisations director. You can check out their website www.apc-cza.org to find out more about what they do.
Then it was back to the hotel and freshen up for the afternoon where I was meeting up with someone I had been chatting to on twitter and Skype for about 8months, Sarah is also a journalist who lives in Belgrade and I’ve been looking forward to meeting up for months and the whole afternoon was great, even though it rained all afternoon and evening. We ended up eating at a Chinese restaurant and after she showed me where one of the main parks are where the refugees sleep. The weather was really bad with heavy rain all day… I was shocked, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to see, but I thought I’d see a load of tents, but there was nothing, most were sleeping under large grey blankets given out by the Local NGO Refugee Aid Serbia and that was it, no shelter! A few were sleeping under large plastic sheets hanging from the trees.
It was a very sad sight to see, they were all soaking wet in horrible conditions.
Friday 15th – Today I started with another little run, something I’m going to keep up every day whilst I’m in Belgrade. Then it was breakfast again and then a morning meeting with Elise from Refugee Aid Serbia, who sometime into the conversation, I find out she’s from America, she had totally lost her US accent and sounded to me like she was from Serbia. It turns out she’s been here for nearly two years. She gave me my Refugee Aid Serbia T-Shirt which I will be wearing at the Belgrade 5km run along with all the other people that have signed up to run in support of the organisation and in support of the refugees.
It was then time to head down to the park where the refugees are and where an organisation called Info Park is based. I spent the afternoon there learning about what this group does in support of the refugees, again another organisation that really do some awesome work in support of the refugees.
Then off to another meeting to meet up with a great guy called Nenad who has been volunteering in various humanitarian crisis’s for a long time. Originally from Serbia he lived in England for many years and then came back during the floods in Serbia a couple of years ago and stayed.
Finally it was back down to the park where the refugees are to help out volunteering with Refugee Aid Serbia where I helped hand out blankets and clothing, and I met some great volunteers from both RAS and Info Park, a great bunch of people. I also got to chat with a number of the refugees, most of which are Afghan and Pakistani and most have traveled from Turkey across land and through Bulgaria instead of using the Aegean Sea crossing to Lesvos, so goes to prove again this EU-Turkey deal is a total waste of time and breaks all international laws in relation to refugees.
These people are fleeing wars and terrorism, closing borders will not stop these people, they will find a way even if they have to use smugglers to get through every border.
Speaking of Smugglers, I saw at least three of them operating in the park touting for business like a ticket tout outside a football stadium on match day. They seem to operate quite casually without any care of being caught by police. Trying to think of a way to approach one of them to find out and get an understanding of what they do and how they operate, but caution as these are people part of some very dangerous criminal gangs, but we will see.
So that’s my first three days here in Belgrade, which is a lovely city, which I would recommend to anyone to come and visit! Tomorrow it’s the Belgrade 5km and looking forward to meeting up with Sarah later in the day.