Avala – a Forgotten Refugee Camp

On Friday afternoon, we were in a refugee camp that nestles in the hills outside of Belgrade.  The surroundings are beautiful and many tourists drive past the turning that leads to the former psychiatric hospital without knowing about the refugees who shelter here eleven years after they fled their homes in the wake of the NATO campaign.

Hailing from the same district, many former neighbours now cramp into small “rooms” – actually “cells” for psychiatric patients.

Despite Western government promises that the unintended consequences of the NATO campaign would be mitigated through aid and reconstruction projects, these refugees remain forgotten.

Some of the children don’t remember “home”.  Their lives have only been in this building yet they hear many stories of the farms and space their families used to enjoy.

Yet it was wonderful to hear some of the children speak of the highlight of their year: a camp organised especially for them by Darko and Lidija – graduates of the Bible School.  A week in the countryside with planned activities, great company and refreshing Bible teaching…

We’ve given out much aid here: each packet carefully into the hands of the families who use it, and signed for by a representative of each family.  Despite torrential rain, it has been a bright afternoon of friendship shared…

As with every place we go, we share again the message of God who loves, each person, whatever nation they are from – a God who has gone so far as to send Jesus Christ to die to bring us into relationship with Him…

Thank you for continuing to “travel” and pray with us as you follow this blog… some of these most recent posts have arrived with a bit of a delay due to the challenge of connecting to the internet…

Next we leave Belgrade and head for Nis in Southern Serbia, from where we will travel almost to the border of Macedonia to deliver aid to more refugee camps like this one.

Starcevo

Starcevo is a small town on the edge of Pancevo which itself is a large industrial satelite town of Belgrade.  On the edge of Starcevo, in the shadow of an oil refinery are the “barracks” where tens of families live in very poor conditions…

This morning we played football, told stories, painted faces, played with balloons, and made music with these families. It has been a precious time as these friendships stretch back over 13 years.

Even today, people still speak of the bombing of 1999 that brought this area to its knees – thick black clouds billowing up from the oil refinery and chemical factories: spilling pollutants, searing the air and leaving a legacy of broken ecology and ill health that will linger for generations. As well as struggling with their poverty, the families of Starcevo have to cope with these health challenges.

Yet you could not meet a more vibrant, generous and welcoming group of people – the “barracks” have been filled with laughter and great conversation through the morning…