Night Shift

Nine thirty in the evening, time to get up. I make some coffee and have a cigarette, as every morning. I gather warm clothes and stuff I'll need out there. I have the feeling this is going to be a long night. With the team, we cook pasta and have a meal together before we leave.

Our shift starts at midnight. The outgoing team briefs us about the current situation and hands us over the radios. We have three public tents, one where we hand out tea and coffee, one where we provide electricity to charge mobile phones and WiFi, and one big sleeping tent.

Everything left behind

Everything left behind (Röszke, 13/09/2015)

In front of our coffee tent, across a sleeping area, UNHCR provides people with changing clothes, blankets and small tents. There are people everywhere, so many families with small children, and groups keep arriving along the railtrack crossing the border from Serbia. It is the only opening in that awful fence Hungary has been building. Somebody tells us 11'000 people arrived at Röszke on Saturday only. Caritas runs a health care centre, Save the Children provides supplies to cover children special needs like baby food and diapers. No Borders distributes food along the tracks just where people reach the camp. There are busses for people who want to go to the registration camps, coordinated by the police. They just make sure the busses are not overcrowded, but force nobody to board. They do not represent any threat for anybody. So, there is not much need for our peacekeeping skills.

I am astonished how much discipline people demonstrate while the camp is a huge mess, and everything is makeshift and improvised. But even in the long queues, even in the crowds, people mostly stay very calm and patient. As the few big sleeping tents are far not enough to shelter everybody, families with small children and old people have priority. Others sleep in the small tents provided by UNHCR or in the open. When we realise they are setting up the tents closer and closer to the aid tents, we decide to mark a safety corridor with wooden poles. And during the whole night, everybody strictly respects it without reminding or further instruction.

While I am sitting in front of our staff-only-tent with a colleague, a young family with a little girl of maybe one and a half year passes. Father and mother are playing with the baby, counting wahed, tnen, talata and then run a few metres. It is amazing how these parents still find the courage to give their child something like normalcy, at three in the morning, arriving from a long walk across the border.

People coming for tea and coffee, often stay for a talk a moment, and many are joking around with us.

But despair remains palpable. For some people it seems the world will never be alright for them anymore. They don't manage even a smile. Some ask us for advice for how to proceed. Others need help.

I accompany a mother of one year old twins to get food and bottles for them. As we are waiting at the hospital tent to receive the supplies, a doctor hurries in with a child wrapped in a surviving blanket, shaking. His mother following in tears. The child cries, and I understand it is in severe hypothermia. The doctor calms the mother, explains they are going to organise a hot bath for the toddler. The woman with me gets her supplies and comes with me to get some milk we can provide. She is shaking from the cold too. But when I want to give her some tea to warm up, she refuses. Tells me she just wants to walk on. She is one who lost her smile on the way. I watch her go and fight hard not to cry myself.

We walk to the traintrack, people keep arriving, more and more. So many children. Never ever shall anybody pretend there are no women and children. We stop near a family with six children. The two older girls see my name tag and are all amazed. Their mother has the same name. I ask her how she is, she smiles, tired, shrugs. But seems touched I asked her.

Such a small girl, such a long story already

Such a small girl, such a long story already (Röszke, 13/09/2015)

A few metres further away, I watch a mother sitting on the ground with two small girls eating bread. They look really hungry. The older girl looks at me with big black eyes. I crouch down to her, ask her name. She just looks, but does not react. I exchange a few words with her mother, wish her good luck.

As we approach the border fence, we keep coming across groups of people. Many seem to appreciate our greetings. They smile and wave at us. It is important to me to show them I do acknowledge them as humans, as individuals. This is the little I can do to give them back some dignity.

So many very short, very touching stories, and I could keep writing and writing. But next night is going to be long too, so let me have some sleep. It is two in the afternoon. Good night!

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