Last month we spoke with René from Cars of Hope Wuppertal about his work with refugees on the Balkanroute. René told us that he worked together with Soul Food Kitchen in Thessaloniki (Greece) and Soul Welders in Belgrade (Serbia). Today we publish an interview with the “Irish Pirate” from Dunkirk, Dylan about the work of Soul Welders with refugees in Belgrade.
Dylan of the Soul Welders crew in Belgrade (Image by Are You Syrious)
Written by Riot Turtle for Enough is Enough
Enough is Enough (EIE): You came from Dunkirk to Belgrade, is there a big difference between France and Belgrade?
Dylan: Yes,there is a massive differance between France and Serbia. We originally went to Dunkirk from Dublin, Ireland as part of a group called Irish Benders and burners. We formed the group when we saw the horrific conditions that 3000 refugees were living in. Imagine living in a summer tent with your children with no heating surrounded by piles of rat infested waste? We built 30 wood burners and had another 10 donated and brought heavy canvas to build more suitable structures..as soon as we got there the atitude of the police and authorities was agressive and abusive towards refugees and volunteers…
Nothing was allowed into the camp apart from firewood. We had to smuggle life saving supplies into the camp underneath this firewood. We only meant to stay 10 days but ended up staying 7 months… What can you do in this situation when faced with this barbarity from both police and human smugglers? Many of us spent our savings and lost our houses doing this. The big problem with aid that came in by trucks was that smugglers would force themselves to the front of the aid line take the aid then sell it to the refugees. We decided to move into the camp and build an armoured tent so trucks could deliver aid and we could do tent to tent distribution. Many times we would threatened by guns and knives, but soon we realised that the smugglers were clever enough to realise that if they harmed us they would be found and caught. For three months we lived like this with constant harassment by police and smugglers… until the camp got evicted.
We then moved into a camp run by MSF (Doctors Without Borders, editor) that, at the beginning was very good. We formed a refugee kitchen with kurdish chefs and fed the 2000 people there. But the good period did not last long…British and French authorities did not like the positive media attetion so the French state took over and sacked the people running it and put in their own people. This new group afejy got six million to run it. We asked them how much they would give as food budget. They said nothing….no budget… the kitchen has been run on aid donations…. one night the police were chasing smugglers on the motorway and they got away. In anger 70 crs riot police came to the family area of the camp and fired teargas, 3 of us got arrested for trying to talk to them, teargassed and beaten and put in prison for a week then charged with incitement to riot… The police wanted to put us in prison for a year but we had a good solicitor and we got an 8 month suspended sentance… All for trying to talk them out of this action… I am telling this story as it outlines the atitude in France.
Surprisingly the atitude to refugees and volunteers is much better in Serbia, for instance the railway barracks where the 1200 afghans are squatting would not be allowed in France, the policemen are not agressive and you can talk to them about issues concerning the welfare of refugees, for instance a small group of men were going around the barracks at night and asking sex for money off the boys. We told the police about this and they acted on it immediately. As well at some point the barracks will be evicted and we told them if you give us 48 hours we,the volunteers would evict the refugees as way to prevent any unnesassary violence and media attention…they are very happy about this…in this game you have to leave your political views at the gate if you really want to help refugees… this again would never happen in France…. you have to remember there were 340000 refugees from the Balkan wars twenty years ago… money and the lack of it is the biggest problem here….
EIE: How was he situation in Belgrade when you arrived?
Dylan: The situation when we arrived here in January was dire… The treated railway sleepers they were burning was literally killing them with the toxic fumes in daytime you could not see a metre in front of you because of this yellow smoke you were gagging within a minute… and I fear many will, in the future be affected wirh lung deseases… this, to our group was the first thing we had to tackle… so for the last six weeks we have paid 460 euros every 2 days for two lorryloads of clean hardwood this has made a massive impact plus the 70 woodburning stoves we have installed. The other thing was that Hotfood Idomeni was the only charity serving meals…. 1 meal a day in the middle of the winter… since then a Spanish group no name kitchen turned up and have been making meals every night and now we have tea served twice a day by 2 lovely english ladies.
EIE: The camp in Subotnic (at the Serbian/Hungary border) was cleared last week. Are Europen border policies making your work more difficult?
Dylan: The refugee problems here in serbia are totally to do with EU, American, NATO and Russian policies…not Serbia…Serbia is not sending armies and extracting oil and minerals in the middle east thereby causing this situation. Especially the EU is to blame for this situation in Serbia… Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and especially Hungary are very brutal to refugees…the stories we are hearing are horrific..for example 2 weeks ago the Hungarian police caught 75 boys, lined them up in underpants in the cold poured water over their heads picked out the youngest, some 7 or 8 years old and beat them severely in front of the refugees ….. they then lined them up infront of a police van and 1 by 1 they had to go in and get beaten by clubs… 16 limbs were broken… in Subotica its a very tense situation…..Hungary is very aggressive in regards to its border relationship everytime the camp in Subotica gets too big the Hungarians flex their muscles and threaten Serbia and the Serbian police have to clear the camp..anyone found is transported to the Presevo unchr camp.
EIE: Apart from welding stoves and supplying clean wood, what other things are you doing in Belgrade?
Dylan: The most recent large operation we have undertaken is with the help of a couple of other groups we have cleared 30 lorryloads of rubbish and human waste from the site using bobcats and jcbs…and many refugees helping to hand clear… with rising temperatures we were worried about anerobic decombustion, cholera and various related deseases…this cost 7000 euros. As well we have a swimming scheme and 3 refugees take groups of 6 to 8 every day to the swimming pool no only do they get clean but they get a short break from refugee life ….and a bit of fun!.also installing portable toilets sinks and showers….
EIE: How can people support the work of Soul Welders? And are there specific things you need to continue your work with refugees?
Dylan: Our latest operation is the biggest we have undertaken. The setting up of an aid distribution warehouse with kitchen capable of delivering up to 6 thousand meals a day.. it is the one thing missing here in Serbia. The aid distribution warehouse is the foundation of effective aid delivery. Local Serbian charities are very happy to see this development. We have hired a 1000 metre warehouse with 2 room apartment and are busy turning it into a distriburion centre for clothes bedding shoes medicine and food. We hope to free up the rules on aid coming into Serbia,on this front things are looking good.but on this front it is sucking our resourses dry.. We need donations small and large! The setup costs are massive. There are things like secondhand shoes that are not allowed in, that we have to buy. So please anyone who knows organisations that could help us in this way,or do fundraisers for this, or just donate (For direct Paypal donations, click here, editor) with money or volunteer and come out and help that would be great! Checkout our Facebook page SoulWelders and soon we will have a Facebook page BELGRAID for the warehouse. Thank you.