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Refugees just ordinary people fleeing extraordinary circumstances

 A disused warehouse in Belgrade is being inhabited by men and boys who do want to register in the refugee official camps

When you think of a refugee do you picture a doctor, dentist, university lecturer, car mechanic, supermarket owner, hairdresser, dress maker or even a Hugo Boss store manager?

If you take a walk around the refugee camps of Europe, take time to hear the stories of displaced people from Iraq, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan that's exactly the type of people you will find and more.

During a visit to Serbia's refugee camps earlier this year with Christian Aid I met all of the above, but regardless of profession or social status in their country of original they were all seeking the same thing, safety for their family and education for their children.

To be able to go to school and university, to be free from religious persecution and to sleep at night without fear of bombs and chemical weapons.

Most sold their homes and worldly possessions to pay ruthless traffickers to get them to Europe. But with the borders now closed thousands are trapped, separated from loved ones with no idea when they might get word on their asylum application.

In Belgrade 'The Barracks' situated behind the train station in the city has became an unofficial camp, home to around 800 young men and boys.

 Daily life in the barracks in Belgrade

The conditions are hellish, rat invested, freezing in the winter. The men burn old railway sleepers to keep warm. Diesel has saturated the wood making it toxic leaving most of them suffering from respiratory illnesses.

Graffiti on the wall of the barracks reads, "No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark'.

The Serbians want the men to register in official camps, but most are waiting it out until the weather breaks to make their way to the border and attempt to illegally cross.

 A disused warehouse in Belgrade is being inhabited by men and boys who do want to register in the refugee official camps

Those from Pakistan know they are unlikely to be granted refugee status and so prefer to stay under the radar.

But for families with small children, this is not an option. They must find food and shelter in official camps.

There are 17 refugee camps dotted across Serbia, in a country with memories of the Balkan wars still fresh. The Serbians treat those fleeing violence with a compassion not found in many of the neighbouring countries.

Christian Aid has been working on the ground with Serbian charity Philanthropy, to provide practical help.

Laundry rooms and new kitchens to help with the basic needs of the families staying in clean but cramped conditions.

 Food distribution in Presevo refugee camp

Khalid Mortazazada, fled Iran with his young family to escape religious persecution. His father was a politician but had worked with a party who opposed the current regime, leaving the entire family under threat of assassination.

A teacher he at first moved to Iraq, but after explosions close to the house he was living fled yet again in fear of his young family's life.

With his wife Awat who is Iraqi, his seven year-old son and four year-old daughter he tells me he would ideally like to go back to his home in Iran but knows that's not an option.

When I met him in a camp in Bujanovac, he was a year into his refugee journey, living in one room in the converted former factory with his family.

Khalid Mortazazada, an Iranian Kurd, and his wife Awat, an Iraqi kurd, are living in Bujanovac refugee camp

His brother has been granted full asylum in London and is working in the city. "I don't want to go to the UK or Germany illegally, but accepted as a refugee. My children need to go to school and I want to work", he says.

He tells us of the problems his family faced in Turkey and Bulgaria where refugees are less than welcome.

They were robbed by bandits who stripped them naked, put guns to their heads and left them standing in an isolated road in the dead of night.

"The kiddies were crying and shaking. I thought we would die".

They were rescued by other refugees and continued on their journey, landing in Serbia just before the borders were closed.

"Serbians are good people, they gave us clothes and food. We had nothing left," he says.

He is was one of the few of the people I spoke to who wanted to come to the United Kingdom. Most speak of a new life in Germany, I couldn't find a single person who had even heard of Northern Ireland.

"We are all equal here, no one is better or worse. We are all refugees, we all need a home, write about my family, tell people what is happening, tell them we are good people, tell them we need their help", he said.

You could help to change the lives of refugees fleeing conflict and crisis this Christian Aid Week by donating online at www.caweek.org calling 08080 006 006, or texting ‘GIVE’ to 70040 to give £5.

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