It's not where you are going, but where you are from

One of the helpers here - and it is a real mix of characters is a young 18 year old from Ghana - all the Serbs talk enviously of his football abilities and he laughs nervously and proudly. Football he says is one of the important distractions that he can give the young guys as they await their papers, their fate and their future.

The collection of Serbs who are here is a greater level of diversity than I have seen in my many visits to this country.  But in a situation where they need people who understand the Middle East and North Africa, the Russian Caucusus and a collection of languages that would impress most universities, they have gathered a very diverse set of Serbs.


Talking to the NGO staff they have a very european view of life - they say that American money is important and American troops matter, but it is British diplomacy, British influence that matters - they reflect on our role in both World Wars. One of them slightly out of context for me, and unexpectedly, asks me if Gladstone would have stood by and seen such a disaster unfold...

As we talk over a bottle of water (no need for a fridge here) I discover the subtleties of cultural difference that have emerged in the camp. Those whose culture allows them to drink or not drink alcohol, those who have some grasp of English, those who can pick up languages better and easier. Much chatter starts when the Afghans from Pashtun are mentioned. Everyone says that was tough - one of more fascinating insights was that they had no sense of glass and that tape had to be placed on large open glass windows to stop the young men and women walking into them and hurting themselves. Also there was much struggle with those who only spoke Pashtun as no-one could be found who spoke Pashtun - eventually someone got their friends cousins who lives in Turkey to come and they translated - that's the need for skills and knowledge on a multinational scale.

Then there is the issue of where are you from. Due to the political priorities Syrians currently get good treatment and are processed quickly but then there are those who reject the tags they are given - so hundred describe themselves as Kurds - rejecting the label of Turk or Iraqi and they are simply delayed in the camps, unprocessed, non-existent to the international community that created these countries in the Post World War One Sykes-Picot carve up of the 1920's.

And then we touch on where they are going - when asked they say Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and The UK. In the eyes of the NGOs here these are the countries people know to be good, nice, kindly and will help. Virtually no-one ever asks for Austria and being sent there is seen as being sent to a place that doesn't want you in the first place. But the NGO staff here all believe that a European quota system would help and are annoyed that some countries, those often most able to take people, are those resisting the proposed scheme. Here on the border with Croatia - Serbia, the feeling in that issue is very real indeed.

So we cross over to the railway station - barriers everywhere - I am shown the platforms where people embark and disembark. I see the fence off lines where people are required to queue, where the Croat police check you and assess you in this new and temporary international border. Effectively I am standing on the entry and exit to the EU and it is a tiny station in the middle of no-where and yet has huge significance to so many people. I stand there, one person, with my guide and driver and I clutch my passport in my jacket.

Here people's lives are decided, a young boy died on the tracks recently, children are born, families lose and gain hope with the arrival of a train or bus. I leave tomorrow, but thank god (if there is one) that these good volunteers and NGOs are here. And if you are at home and collecting blankets and more - keep at it - at the very least it keeps them warm for another week whilst someone no-where decides their fate based on numbers and quotas.

And I turn and walk, get in the car, and leave. My heart is heavy and sense of helplessness total. I need to sleep I think. Tomorrow will be better, surely?