A refugee's story: Risking all for a better life


The first time I see Omar Almasri, he is lying on the floor at the refugee reception centre in Sid, a Serbian city on the border with Croatia. He is too weak to speak to me.

Later, I learn that the 20-year-old had just arrived by train, having spent two weeks traveling from his hometown Daraa in southern Syria. He was hoping to make it to Germany.

“The most dangerous part was crossing the border between Syria and Turkey – it took me three days, during which I had to swim across a river,” he told me. 

Then we were put into a rubber boat to cross the sea to Greece. It took us five hours to cross because we got lost and the boat ran out of fuel.

It was in Greece when he first started to feel ill, and, since then, his health has deteriorated significantly.

Omar was taken to a local medical centre and then to the Institute for Pulmonary Diseases in Novi Sad, Serbia, where he was urgently admitted. The viral pneumonia he was diagnosed with was so severe, the doctors induced an artificial coma to help him recover.

“Apparently the treatment was successful. I woke up in the hospital a few days later.”

I was very frightened and confused. At first I didn’t remember what had happened to me, and I was so weak I couldn’t even speak.

Since none of the medical staff spoke Arabic, the translators of Novi Sad Humanitarian Centre, CARE’s long-standing partners in Serbia, explained to him what had happened. After 13 days we were finally able to get in contact with Omar’s parents in Syria and inform them where their son was.

His father was in tears as he had not heard any news about his son for many days.

After over two weeks, Omar was checked out of hospital and taken to the reception centre in Sid. With the help of local authorities, we set him up in a room with heating, and CARE provided cooked food and fresh fruit and vegetables necessary for his recovery.

Still visibly weak and 20kg thinner than he was at the start of his journey, Omar is slowly recovering. He fled Syria fearful for his own future, with no prospects beyond survival as the conflict entered its sixth year. He still hopes to make it to Germany, where he would like to study economics, even though the borders were closed while he was in the hospital. He says:

It is so lonely here, without anyone I know, and I’m so worried about the future. But I can’t lose hope.

Story by Dobrila Markovic, Novi Sad Humanitarian Centre

CARE in the Balkans

CARE is working through partner organisations using a network of volunteers to provide 24-hour assistance seven days a week to refugees crossing through the Balkans. This includes packages with dry food, drinks, wet wipes, clothes, blankets and materials specifically for women and mothers, such as sanitary materials and nappies. A trailer offering mobile phone charging and free WiFi has been set up, as social media and phones are a key way for people to keep in touch with other family members.

In Serbia:

  • With the help of our partner organisations, we have continued daily distribution of food packages. On average 1,000 packages are distributed each week.
  • CARE built and rehabilitated washing facilities in three locations in north Serbia in order to improve hygiene conditions for refugees.
  • CARE has procured and delivered two industrial washing machines for the Red Cross in order to ensure blankets can be washed and re-used.
  • CARE provided 100 bunk beds (for 200 people) in the temporary refugee camp Bujanovac.
  • Volunteers from CARE partner organisations are running outdoor activities for children and workshops for women to support women and children staying in camps and improve everyday life.

In Croatia:

  • CARE and partners are distributing on average 625 packages weekly.
  • CARE has provided 100 bunk beds (for 200 people) in a temporary refugee camp.
  • Three Alaska heated tents (with capacity for 50 people) were procured for the centre. The tents are currently used as women and child friendly spaces in collaboration with UNICEF, Magna and Save the Children.
  • VCO continued to mobilise volunteers to support work in the reception centre in Slavonski Brod. These volunteers are a critical human resource to the camp. They provide support to the camp management, help with registration, work on family reunion and tracing services, support mothers with children, help the sick and elderly, do crowd management and organise the distribution of the CARE food packages. CARE is supporting the volunteers with a lunch package, basic equipment, transport to the camp, psycho-social support and training.

It is important to note that refugees arriving in Europe represent only a small percentage of the people affected by the Syrian crisis. The vast majority remain in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, where government services and humanitarian operations are struggling to meet the needs of millions of people displaced from their homes by the conflict.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.