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The accommodation centre for refugees in Kovachevtsi, Bulgaria is a place of last resort; a home for those who would face persecution or other danger on return to their former homes. It is here that 37-year-old Mohammed, his wife Zahra and their four children found refuge from the fighting in Syria. They came to Bulgaria on 13 November.
The journey, Mohammed says, was cold and dangerous and his son Hamudi became very sick as they left Turkey. “The little one was coughing all the time, he had a trembling fever and, to make matters worse, we got lost in the woods.” The family was lost for hours in the darkness, but finally came to a police station on the Bulgarian border.
The following morning Hamudi was examined by a doctor and taken to the hospital with his mother for treatment. The rest of the family stayed at the police station and were finally transported to the refugee centre. The separation was difficult. “As you know, in police custody they take away your phone,” Mohammed says. “For eight days I lost contact with my wife and child and nobody was able to tell me what happened to them.”
At Kovachevtsi Mohammed met staff and volunteers from the Bulgarian Red Cross who were able to listen to his story and set about reuniting the family. They were separated for 11 days in total. The Red Cross was also able to provide a wheelchair for the couple’s older son who has cerebral palsy and so has difficulty walking.
Mohammed says he chose to make the difficult journey out of Syria after two years of living under siege conditions where work as a motor mechanic had become impossible and finding care and medication for their sick child was proving increasingly difficult. “We want to live in Syria, but there is no life in Syria anymore. That is why we came to Bulgaria and we are grateful to the Bulgarian government for accepting us. The most important is that we managed to save our children, everything else comes next.
The Bulgarian Red Cross distributes food and other relief items in the accommodation centres for refugees in Bulgaria and provides a weekly hot meal for residents. Youth Red Cross volunteers are visiting the camps every week and spend hours with the refugee children, providing psychosocial support and playing educational games. Restoring family links work has meant that 56 refugees were able to contact their families.