For a few hours, the migrants can relax and think of something other than their difficult situation. Credit : Julia Dumont
For a few hours, the migrants can relax and think of something other than their difficult situation. Credit : Julia Dumont

Several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in the Refugee Aid Miksalište project manage a drop-in house for migrants in Belgrade. Through activities, workshops and language lessons, they bring a breath of fresh air to the inactive and discouraged migrants.

The players take their turn around the table tennis table, which is the centerpiece of the main room of the Miksalište house, without any pause for interruption. In this warm space in the centre of Belgrade, time seems to have stopped.

Among the migrants that frequent this place managed by a coalition of NGOs, regrouped under the name Refugee Aid Miksalište, many have been in Serbia for so long that they can no longer recall the date when they left their country of origin. 

The Refugee Aid Miksalište centre. Credit : Julia Dumont.

Sitting on the chairs lined against the walls, each of them chats on their smartphone with a family member still in Afghanistan, Syria or Pakistan. For these migrants who were re-sheltered in May in centres on the outskirts of Belgrade, their visit to Miksalište house, despite its brevity, enables them to escape conditions that are increasingly difficult to bear for a few hours.

Killing time

Maaz Khan, wearing sneakers but no socks, is lost in his thoughts when the ring of his telephone startles him. For this 18-year-old Afghan man, who spent last winter living in a dilapidated depot near Belgrade station, the migrant centre in Obrenovac where he was sent in a suburb of Belgrade seems almost comfortable. But it doesn’t kill the boredom of its occupants. Khan spends his days waiting and his nights attempting to cross the Serbian-Hungarian border, in vain.

Having arrived in Serbia 10 months ago, the young man dreams of reaching Paris where one of his uncles lives. Each mention of the French capital brings a smile to his face, which he tries to disguise.

To keep himself busy, Khan started having English lessons this winter. But the long journey that he now needs to make from Obrenovac prevents him from being very diligent.

"Here, we can forget"

As for Imane*, she would rather learn German. The 26-year-old woman is waiting to be able to join her husband, who has already reached Germany. Her saddened face surrounded by a pastel veil, she sums up in a few words the role that Miksalište house plays for the 200 migrants that come here every day. “Here, for a few moments, we can forget.”

With other women standing by her side in the space reserved for them, this young Syrian woman has started to make small pieces of pearl jewellery that she and her friends hope to sell in order to have a bit of autonomy.

“Taking part in these activities allows these women to get out of their routine, which often comes down to looking after their children and queuing for food,” explains Mina Chavic from the Novosadski humanitarian centre.

Upstairs, in the room where the language lessons take place, a large white sheet covered with handwriting is hung onto the wall. Dozens of people answered the question: “What does migration mean for you?” Among the answers, the word “freedom” reappears the most. None of the participants thought to write “boredom”.


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