Conflict & Justice

Serbian police officer and smiling Syrian boy show Europe how welcoming refugees is done

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The image was accompanied by a tweet quoting a Syrian refugee in Belgrade: “#Syrians are full of praise for #Serbian police. ‘They're fair. They're the first who didn't treat us like animals.'”

Credit:

Manveen Rana/BBC

This photograph has become a viral sensation on Twitter and Facebook since it appeared yesterday. Two Serbian police officers stand at their posts somewhere in downtown Belgrade, one of them holding a Syrian toddler currently staying at the improvised refugee camp near the city's main train station.

The image was posted to Twitter by BBC Radio 4 senior broadcast journalist Manveen Rana, who seems to have traveled to Serbia with a group of refugees from Greece. Rana's Twitter feed is filled with tales of the journey, from claims of refugees having been beaten by police in Greece to all-night bus rides and images of the makeshift camp in downtown Belgrade.

While Syrian refugees passing through Serbia en route to Hungary and other EU countries seem to be experiencing generally better treatment than in other countries along the way, Rana reports that these people are still vulnerable to groups trying to take advantage of their desperation. Some Belgrade residents have reported and complained about street venders selling blankets and old clothes to refugees near the downtown train station—at prices three-to-four times higher than you find in retail stores, no less. Rana herself was charged some 70 euro by a man who was probably an unlicensed taxi driver (known colloquially as “wild taxis” in Belgrade) for a ride that would have run him about 10 euro in a licensed Belgrade taxi.

Rana noted on Twitter that cab drivers seem to target refugees with these high rates, when driving them to their accommodations in the city:

After so many recent reports of police brutality and unfair treatment of refugees in some European countries, Internet users in Serbia and elsewhere have celebrated the image of the police officer holding a smiling Syrian boy. Within a few hours, the tweet attracted more than 800 retweets and almost 1,000 favorites, and it soon spilled over to Facebook and other social networks, as it continues to be retweeted some 50 times per hour.

Although its unemployment rate is approaching 28 percent and some are expressing fear of what might happen to the economy if many refugees decide to remain, Serbia and its people have been generally accepting and often helpful. Both the public and state officials and police seem to have embraced an open-arms policy in this unfolding refugee crisis. Serbian social media users have been praising the police officer, and many people say such compassion is what they hope to see from law enforcement throughout the country and in other nations.

A version of this story was cross-posted at Global Voices, a community of 1,200 bloggers and reporters worldwide.