Camp is like Groundhog Day; you need to break monotony

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The refugee crisis may not always make headline news but the plight of thousands of refugees in camps across Europe’s southern borders is not being ignored.

Government organisations and international relief charities are still playing their part in helping people who have fled their homeland due to war or persecution.

One man who knows this all too well is Philip Rose who has just returned from a camp on Serbia’s north western border with Croatia.

Philip, who has been involved in relief efforts in Serbia for more than 20 years, returned to Scotland after a week-long visit on April 4.

The 65-year-old from Lenzie was in the small village of Sid in the Srem district of Serbia. Authorities have set up a camp there in a disused service station.

Working as an events logistics facilitator for the Christian charity Operation Mobilisation UK – or OM UK as it most commonly known – Philip took with him colouring books and pens for the children to help them pass the time.

He said: “The last time I was in Serbia was in 2001 when I was with part of the Christian expeditionary organisation Oak Hall.

“At that time, it was the only organisation to carry out aid work in Serbia.

“Previous to that I went out regularly between 1994 and 2001.”

Many of the refugees have harrowing stories to tell and Philip was often shocked by their stories of exploitation.

He said: “There are around 1200 refugees in the camp which is run by the UNHCR and the Red Cross.

“Some of the stories we were told were truly awful. Many of the people in the camp have come across from Lesbos to Greece and then work their way up into Serbia.

“None of the people we met wanted to leave their homes and, interestingly, none of them wanted to go to the UK. They said it was too cold and wet.”

Philip and his fellow volunteers were there to serve tea – or chai as it’s known locally – but also to provide a friendly face for them to talk to.

He has officially worked for OM UK since August 2010, but was involved for six years prior to that as his wife Sharon also works for the charity.

His latest trip to Serbia was somewhat different this time round though.

Instead of refugees from the Croatian War of Independence which tore the former Yugoslavia apart from 1991 to 95, he met families fleeing from the Syrian civil war, Afghanistan, Iraq and African countries.

Philip said: “We arrived in the middle of the night into Srem and all the roads have changed. There are a lot more of them now and we had problems finding the right slip road.

“We were a bit lost and were flagged down by the police. I think we may have been in a dangerous area because the police escorted us to the outskirts of Sid where we found the UNHRC Red Cross camp.”

Once there Philip and his small team of volunteers manned the chai urn and made themselves useful organising games for the children, including table tennis, as well as dominoes for the grown ups.

Explaining the daily routine, Philip said: “It is very much like Groundhog Day. Because so many of the people have been here for a very long time, everyday is the same and the boredom is relentless.

“We were on chai duty from eight in the morning until nine at night, and it gave us plenty of opportunity to get to know the refugees.

“Our role was to provide tea, friendship and fun.

“It may sound simple but I think it was really appreciated because it broke up the monotony of being in the camp.”

One of the most satisfying aspects of being there was the genuine warmth Philip and the rest of his group felt from the people in the camp.

Philip, a long term member of Lenzie Union Parish Church, said: “It really puts things into perspective.

“People over here may say they are poor but they still have all the things they need to live such as food and shelter.”

Asked how he would respond to people who said that the refugees were not welcome in Europe, Philip added: “As a Christian it is my duty to reach out and help these refugees.

“These are human beings who are in desperate need of our help.”

Philip now plans to relate his experiences at the camp with fellow members of his church congregation.