Members of the British rock band, Editors, have paid a surprise visit to hundreds of refugees living in a camp in Serbia. They gave encouragement to aspiring musicians living in the camp and witnessed Oxfam’s vital work supporting refugees.
Editors members Tom Smith, Elliot Williams and Ed Lay took a day out of their European tour to visit Obrenovac camp on the outskirts of Belgrade. The converted army barracks hosts around 700 male refugees, many of whom had hoped to reach other European countries but have been trapped in Serbia for months or years on end.
In the camp’s busy canteen, the band sat down with the men and shared a meal of rice and vegetable curry provided by Oxfam and its local partner BelgrAID. They also listened in on rehearsals with a band from the camp whose members come from as far afield Cuba and Pakistan.
Tom Smith, Editors singer and guitarist, said: “On a human level, it's hard to ignore people risking everything to leave their homes. To make that decision to go and not quite know where you're going to get to, or what's going to happen to you. I can't imagine the amount of strain that puts on a person, on a family, on your relationships."
Speaking of the musicians, he added: "It's easy to understand how having something like music in your life, when you're in a situation like this, is not just a welcome distraction but also gives you more of a purpose. To be able to play drums or sing with people - I would do it if I was in the same situation."
The band recently revealed that a track from their most recent album Violence, named Hallelujah (So Low), was inspired by meeting refugees with Oxfam in Greece in 2016. Editors will play at a string of European music festivals over the summer.
Elliot Williams, Editors keyboardist, said: "I wish I could put a lot of people in my position here today to look around and see that these people aren't something to be afraid of. They're normal people that have had to make incredibly tough decisions to leave their homes and try and find a safer place to live. That shouldn't be seen in a negative light."
Over a million refugees from Syria and other countries passed through Serbia in 2015 and 2016 before countries in eastern Europe closed their borders. Today around 4,000 people remain in 18 camps across Serbia or sleeping rough. Oxfam and its partners have documented extreme abuse of refugees at the hands of state officials in neighbouring Hungary, Croatia, Macedonia and Bulgaria.
Jovana Arsenijeviæ, Oxfam’s advocacy officer in Serbia, said: “The young men living in the camp, especially the musicians among them, were so surprised and delighted to have rock stars visiting the camp. Many of the residents feel depressed and hopeless because they miss their families and homes and they see no clear future for themselves. Nothing like this normally happens here.”
Notes to editors
- Photos and video of Editors visiting Obrenovac camp are available here.
- Editors released their new album Violence on 9 March 2018. See full details of their European tour here
- In June, the UN refugee agency announced that 68.5 million people have been forced from their homes by war or persecution. Oxfam works in more than 90 countries providing vital aid in many of the places that refugees flee from and arrive in, including Syria, Afghanistan, Jordan, Lebanon, Uganda and Bangladesh.
- Oxfam is calling on European governments to provide more legal routes for refugees and other migrants to apply for asylum, work or study in an orderly and safe manner.
- Oxfam provides three meals a day to residents of Obrenovac camp and other camps in Serbia. We have also donated sports equipment to provide exercise and entertainment, and we campaign for the rights of refugees and migrants. Our 2017 report A Dangerous Game documented the abuse migrants leaving Serbia suffer at the hands of border guards in Hungary, Macedonia, Croatia and Bulgaria.