The hidden refugees of Stalingrad

One of our volunteers shares their experiences of Stalingrad

Walking through Stalingrad in the daytime, there is now no visible refugee crisis there. However, if you look closely enough you can see people wandering aimlessly around either alone or in pairs. They tend to be wary and alert to passer-bys but don’t make themselves noticeable. Standing in McDonalds we noticed a security guard on the door, ejecting those believed to be refugees but in a manner as not to attract attention to the public. Walking up and down the canal there were a tent or two to be seen. A group of lads were exercising on the gym equipment, when walking past we were able to see that one was also praying.

Sitting in a park a few hours later, we were amazed to see a park full of life, with people sitting chatting, laughing, enjoying other’s company and children playing. The people consisted of locals, tourists and refugees and every one seemed at ease and happy in the sun. Walking back down the street, cardboard was noted woven between railings to create a temporary wall for people to shelter behind.

A little later on we walked to the Place de le Bataille De Stalingrad. There we saw rows of refugees sat on the steps, all sitting and listening intently. They were being taught French by a voluntary organisation who had visibly created a really good rapport with the refugees. They were thanked when the lesson had finished, a few refugees stayed behind and chatted away to us. One man was even invited to join in a brief game of football with a few local children by their father.

A few of the people we spoke to enlightened us on how they became hidden throughout the day. There were expectations of them to pack away all shelters first thing in the morning, which could then be stored and collected that evening. There was a facility available to shower in the morning. They were then expected to keep themselves occupied until evening. At 5.30 pm Monday to Friday a charity offers a meal. However, there is no provisions for the weekend and many refugees are understandably hungry.

The refugees we spoke to were not trying to gain access to the UK, they were pursuing other options such as application to France or seeking deportation to their home country or place of last documented origin. Several males we spoke to had already been deported from the UK and had made their way back to France to be near other refugees.