Robert Neufeld typically communicates stories of the world's children from his desk here in Canada. But this month, Bob has travelled to Serbia, to meet with refugee families waiting to cross into new lives in Europe.
Syrian father Fahud Tabuck (back left) has already shepherd his sons (front row) across great distances. Now he wants to work hard to provide for them in a new country. Photo/World Vision
In Fahad Tabuck's face, I see a combination of exhaustion, frustration and despair that seems permanently etched into his expression. The 38-year old Syrian refugee looks at least a decade older, having spent the past two years fleeing from his home in Syria with his wife and five children.
Now, resting on a blanket at a roadside auto service centre near the Serbian town of Adasevci, Fahad tells me of his decision to take his family away from the Syrian city of Aleppo during the fighting in 2013. The family spent two years in Turkey, but there were few or no job opportunities for Fahad and his wife, or for his children to obtain an education. So the father took the risky decision to seek sanctuary in Europe.
A risky sea-crossing
In early October, the family made the perilous journey by sea, crossing the Mediterranean. They landed, relatively unscathed, in Greece. By this time, the group of travellers from Aleppo and other nearby Syrian cities had swelled to approximately 20. After crossing Greece and Macedonia by a combination of buses and walking, the group arrived at the Serbian frontier. Here, Fahad says, he paid 55 Euros to be taken to the Serbian capital of Belgrade.
Fahad relates his story in a matter-of-fact manner. But other families in the group are more vocal and clearly angry over some of the things they have endured. They tell of children and mothers getting slapped by police for stepping out of line while waiting for transportation. Others mention being briefly detained in camps with no access to water or toilets for 24 hours. Fahad maintains his calm demeanor as he listens, but the weariness in his face is evident. It's clear that the journey has taken a great toll on himself and his wife.
A father's pride
But Fahad's pride as a father is something I can see, as he calls his sons over to be photographed. "We do everything for them, for the kids," he tells us as he lines up his three eldest boys. Nine-year old Muhammad, eight-year old Mahmood and 12-year old Mahmood Asemka obediently stand straight in front of their father. Despite all they have endured, the boys look well-dressed and in good health, which is more than can be said for other refugee children in Adasevci on this day.
Soon Fahad and his family will re-board the buses for the next stage of their journey. They and thousands of other refugees who pass through this part of Serbia will take with them some food, water and sanitary supplies provided by World Vision. Over the past several weeks, this assistance has benefited more than 70,000 refugees.
In the coming days, World Vision plans to open a new "child-friendly space" at Adasevci, providing children with toys, crafts and games, giving them a safe place to play and, however briefly, allowing them to be kids once again.
"We want to work"
Fahad says he wants to take his children to Germany, where he hopes they can get back into school. The father also wants to find a job. If Germany won't allow them to enter, he says he will find another place, as long as he is allowed to work.
"We want to work," he tells us. "We want a new life somewhere else."
Learn how to help Syrian refugee families
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