A compilation of teachings by Dharma Master Cheng Yen, March 2016
The civil war in Syria has raged for five years. It began with demonstrations, followed by an uprising, and then turned into a full-scale civil war. Syria, with its rich culture and history, quickly turned into a battlefield, and this beautiful land which so many called home has been reduced to ruins. 470,000 deaths have resulted from the conflict. More than four million people have fled to other countries, and more than half of the population has been displaced from their homes.
Whether fleeing by water or over land, the journey of these Syrian refugees is filled with hardship. They have to pass through a country in a state of war, making it past bombing and gunfire, and then cross rough seas. Each step of their journey is filled with dangers. Even those fortunate enough to make it to other countries still have a hard time finding clothing and shelter to survive the freezing winter conditions. On the news, we can see refugees finding temporary shelter in tents, their drenched clothes hanging next to them. It is truly heartbreaking. When will this terrible nightmare be over? All this is beyond their control.
In recent years, many refugees have fled from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan north to Europe along the “Balkan route.” Along the route is the country of Serbia, and more than a thousand refugees would pass through there every day. At the end of last year, Tzu Chi received a letter from the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which indicated the government’s hopes that Tzu Chi could lend a helping hand to the passing refugees.
In 2014, flooding in Bosnia brought European Tzu Chi volunteers there three times to hold relief distributions. In November of last year, the governor of the municipality of Samac came to Taiwan to show his gratitude to Tzu Chi and express his hopes that he too would one day become a Tzu Chi volunteer. When the governor learned that his neighboring country, Serbia, was asking Tzu Chi for help, he told us he would collaborate with Tzu Chi in this effort.
Tzu Chi volunteers in Europe undertook the mission of visiting Serbia to assess the refugees’ situation, and began the work to prepare supplies. They paid several visits to the Distribution Centre for Assistance to Refugees in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. When they were ready to start distributions in March (of 2016), the governor of Samac brought 16 people who had received aid from Tzu Chi volunteers to participate in the relief efforts.
On March 1, Tzu Chi volunteers from more than ten countries gathered in Serbia on the Balkan Peninsula, ready to distribute 10,000 sets of warm clothing to passing refugees. However, many refugees were stranded at the Greece – Macedonia border due to a border closure there. Some of the refugees were even sent back to their own countries.
Even faced with this sudden change of events, Tzu Chi volunteers did not give up. Instead, they went to refugee centers and train stations to help the refugees. They would help refugees to find clothing that fit them among the distributed items, and help the children into their warm clothes. The children repaid the volunteers with bright smiles, yet the teenagers remained emotionless. The hardships they had been through were written on their faces; seeing this was heartbreaking for our volunteers.
In the refugee centers, Tzu Chi volunteers saw mothers who were unable to breastfeed their newborn babies due to lack of sufficient nutrition. Immediately, they would go out to buy milk powder. They also found that refugees only had cold, dried food to eat, so they started providing the refugees with hot meals to bring warmth to their bodies as well as their hearts.
The refugees wish that the border will open soon so that they can move on towards the future they hope for. Although Tzu Chi volunteers are not able to provide them with a place where they can live peacefully, they have done their best to form good affinities with the refugees on this long and arduous journey. Not only have they provided the refugees with material goods for their daily needs, they also accompanied them with sincerity and open hearts, caring for them with love. We hope that these refugees feel that there is warmth in the world, and that, with these warm memories, seeds of love have been planted in their hearts. We hope that in the future, when they have the chance to return home, they will be able to help other people in need.
When will these refugees be able to find a safe place to settle down? No one knows. The refugee policies in many European countries are undergoing changes. Recently, several countries are working to reach an agreement to end the war in Syria, in the hope that refugees will be able to return and begin to rebuild their homes.
Interpersonal conflicts make it difficult for people in society to live in peace and safety. Even worse, they may trigger wars that cause many tragedies. We hope that the hearts of all people can find harmony, and that everyone can help and love one another. Only then can this world have peace and blessings.