People in Need in Macedonia and Serbia supports organisations offering refugees material, psychosocial and legal assistancePublished: Aug 28, 2015 Reading time: 7 minutes
Subotica, Gevgelija, Prague (28 August 2015) – Refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are increasingly heading to the European Union via Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary. They often experience weeks of exhausting migration, cruel treatment by human traffickers, a dangerous journey across the sea or unpleasant treatment by border patrol officials and police. Without knowing the language or legislation in a foreign environment, they easily become victims of human trafficking gangs, bribery and other forms of abuse.
In recent weeks, workers from the People in Need Foundation (PIN) have conducted a detailed survey of the situation directly in Macedonia and Serbia, based on which PIN has decided to immediately release CZK 1.7 million from the humanitarian fund of the People in Need Club of Friends to help refugees. "Two Macedonian and one Serbian partner NGOs will provide the neediest among refugees with water and food, psychosocial and legal assistance as well as information about risks, such as human trafficking gangs. We are focusing mainly on protecting women and children," explains People in Need Coordinator Emanuela Macková, who surveyed the situation on site. People in Need has already distributed food aid for 150 refugees, mainly women and children, in northern Serbia.
For assistance we are using the humanitarian fund of the People in Need Club of Friends, to which you can contribute by sending a donation to bank account 445544/0300, IBAN: CZ09 0300 0000 0000 0044 5544. You can read more about our assistance to refugees in the Balkans HERE
The journey of refugees through Macedonia and Serbia
From Greece, refugees mostly continue on public transport to the Macedonian border, which they cross on foot. According to officials, the border is being crossed on a daily basis by 2,000 people. "Following a journey on foot that takes several hours, they are registered, and then they have 72 hours to transit through the country on their way to Serbia. Overcrowded trains and buses, organised by local authorities, take them to the border with Serbia, which they again cross on foot," explains Emanuela Macková. "In the south of Serbia, some people then journey to a centre in Prešev, where they are registered and where they can spend one night. However, the centre has a very limited number of beds for ill persons and for mothers with small children. The others sleep in the open or in tents, if they bring tents with them," explains Emanuela Macková.
This is followed by a trip by bus to Belgrade, where the refugees usually stay for a few days in order to regain their strength for the rest of the journey. "Some sleep in hostels, but most of them spend the night in parks. On a daily basis now, twenty buses full of refugees arrive from Belgrade in Kanjiža in the north of the country, where there is another centre for refugees, and others are arriving by car or taxi," explains Emanuela Macková, adding that from there people head for the Hungarian border after a brief rest. Although people have mostly praised how they are treated by the Serbs, there have already been some reports of cases when Serbian police have demanded bribes.
"For most of the refugees, the destination countries are Germany, Sweden or Austria. They are concerned about the construction of a fence along the border with Hungary and are worried about the actions of the Hungarian border patrol officers, but they also know that it is possible to throw a jacket over the razor-wire fence, cut through it or simply go around it," explains Emanuela Macková, who adds that only a few people remain in Serbia.
Tens of thousands of refugees per month, mostly Syrians
According to Serbian authorities, 80,000 refugees have crossed through Serbia since January, but the numbers are growing each month and, according the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 29,000 people did so in July. Most of them, almost 20,000, were fleeing from war-torn Syria, in addition to refugees from conflict-stricken Afghanistan and Iraq. The situation in Macedonia is similar. Between 19 June and 25 August alone, 45,000 refugees crossed through that country. Most of them were Syrians (37,000 people), followed by Afghans, Iraqis as well as Pakistanis, Palestinians and people from countries such as Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Cameroon and Eritrea.
The proportions of men, women and children are also changing. "Whereas previously women and children made up 10-15% of the refugees, now they make up around 30%," Emanuela Macková estimates. No official statistics exist."This is often due to the fact that families often contribute for the journey of one family member and hope that after he/she is granted asylum they can make use of the right to family reunification. So men mostly set off on the journey," Emanuela Macková adds. She also explains that after being on their journey for months, the people are more optimistic, because they have most of the travel behind them, and they know that their destination is close, and they hope for a better future.
Most of the people are refugees, not economic migrants
"Most of these people are fleeing from war or major conflicts, and therefore the are refugees, not economic migrants. They have experienced weeks of travelling, and they really need basic humanitarian, psychosocial and legal assistance," explains the director of the Humanitarian and Development Section of People in Need, Jan Mrkvička. "We will offer assistance together with our partners to the most vulnerable people, mainly women, children and seniors," he adds.
He is not concerned about the aid helping other refugees on their journey. "The debate being waged in the Czech Republic about refugees often neglects a basic fact. These people are mostly fleeing from the risk of death, and since, for example, we are working in Syria and Afghanistan, we know that this journey is mostly taken by those who really have no other option. For example, as far as Syria is concerned, the majority of its inhabitants remain in a war-stricken country or in camps beyond Syria's borders, where we are also attempting to help them. Unfortunately, the only thing that we can manage to do is ease the suffering of these neediest people and protect them from the risk of further abuse," he continues.
The People in Need Foundation is also providing the Legis organisation in the south of Macedonia with resources for food and water distribution to the neediest and is sharing its experience with humanitarian aid organisations. They will also push for the quickest possible registration of refugees. "Another partnering organisation, La Strada, will provide refugees mainly with information about their rights, the dangers of human trafficking gangs and other abuse, and they will resolve individual cases with the relevant authorities. They will also focus on protection of women, children, the ill and seniors," Emanuela Macková explains.
In northern Serbia, partners from the Humanitarian Centre for Integration and Tolerance (HCIT) are focusing on distributing water and food and providing free-time activities for children as well as psychosocial assistance for people in and outside of camps. The People in Need Foundation has already offered first aid to refugees. "In an abandoned factory in Subotica, through which hundreds of people travel daily, we have distributed water, fruit and cookies for 150 refugees, mainly women and children," Emanuela Macková explains.
Assistance provided by the People in Need Foundation in the Balkans
People in Need has been actively involved in the Balkans ever since the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s. In Kosovo, it currently cooperates with organisations helping visually and hearing impaired persons, defending the rights of the mentally disabled and supporting inclusive education of ethnic minority children. In Serbia, it is focusing on providing services for persons with mental disabilities. It supports projects that provide safe housing for clients of an institution for mentally disabled people in Veliki Popovac. In both Bosnia and Serbia, the organisation also provided relief during the floods that affected those countries in 2014.
For more information, please contact:
Emanuela Macková, People in Need Coordinator, who visited Serbia and Macedonia, +420 778 489 537 Emanuela.Mackova@clovekvtisni.cz
Hana Daňková, Media Coordinator for the Migration Programme, +420 775 443 607 Hana.Dankova@clovekvtisni.cz