ABU DHABI // The Serbian flag flies at half mast above the country’s embassy in the capital, in a show of respect to those who have lost their lives in the worst flooding the Balkans has experienced for over a century.
Beneath it, a small army of volunteers gathered yesterday to pack boxes of aid to be flown to Serbia.
“More than 50,000 people have been displaced and they are now staying in hotels, school gymnasiums and military facilities because of the flooding,” said Milos Perisic, the Serbian ambassador to the UAE, who was helping to pack boxes.
They have so far collected more than five tonnes of aid in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, including blankets, clothes, food and nappies, and donations have reached more than Dh250,000.
The boxes were to be loaded on to a cargo aircraft on Friday night.
Once the flight arrives in Serbia on Saturday morning, the supplies will be handed over to the Red Cross to distribute to those most in need.
Across Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia, 50 people have died as a result of the flooding.
“In Serbia, they are afraid to show a lot of it on TV,” the ambassador said.
“Now it is even worse, as the water flows back into the rivers, the hot weather in the summer months could lead to the spread of disease.
“We believe there has been at least €1 billion (Dh5bn) of damage across the country.
“It was like in the movies, you see films about disasters and catastrophes. People only had a couple of hours to evacuate their homes, leaving behind the lives they have been building.”
Mr Perisic urged people to give what they can.
“Anyone can come along and drop off supplies, or contact the embassy to arrange collection,” he said. “Now we will do our best and, with help coming from around the world, we will do our best not to lose more lives and to repair what was destroyed.”
The call for aid has led to hundreds of Serbian volunteers across the UAE coming together to help with the relief effort.
“It is a very difficult time, everyone has friends or family back in Serbia,” said Sandra Takac, a mother of two who has been coordinating efforts at the Serbian embassy.
“But it is amazing how many people have come to help, we are happy to help. It is devastating to see how people are suffering.
“It is amazing how people have come together. It is really nice to see, although we do not all know each other, or not affected personally, they are still coming to help.
“Donations are still coming, and we are still collecting, this is not the end of it – it will continue.
“We know how it is, it is not the first disaster that Serbia has been through and we are glad to help.”
About 10,000 Serbians live in the UAE.