As Europe struggles to mitigate a humanitarian crisis, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has returned to the Balkans, launching operations in Serbia in support of local organisations providing relief to people seeking safety.
More than 70,000 registered refugees have passed through Serbia so far this year, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Every day, thousands of refugees from war-scarred countries like Syria and Afghanistan reach the border, but for them Serbia is merely another way station in their seemingly endless journey.
In 2016, refugees are facing even greater difficulty transiting through Serbia and the rest of Europe. Border closures and heightened restrictions along the route – from Turkey to Germany – seem inevitable. In that event, thousands of refugees will find themselves in desperate need of shelter, food, water, medical supplies and other basic assistance.
“Arbitrary security measures made by individual EU countries would make the situations in either Serbia, Greece or elsewhere along the route go from bad to worse very quickly,” says Kirk Day, the IRC’s regional representative for the Europe response.
Basic aid and essential information
While Europe vacillates over its response to the refugee crisis, the IRC is focused on ensuring that refugees are treated with dignity and respect as they travel north in search of sanctuary.
“The people we’re serving are constantly on the move, but we are trying our best to adapt to the situation,” says Danijela Korac-Mandic, director of the Novi Sad Humanitarian Center, an IRC partner. “We are also concerned about what will happen if refugees are forced to stay in Serbia. We are not adequately prepared for that.”
The IRC has partnered with 10 local aid organisations in Sid, Dimitrovgrad and Preševo—the three entry and exit points in Serbia—to provide refugees with essential information about registration and transportation, clothing and food distributions, and WiFi and mobile phone charging stations. Beyond this “front-line” assistance, we and our partners will be providing psychological support to women, children and other vulnerable individuals.
In addition to working with local organisations, we also support municipalities in Preševo and Sid with trash removal equipment and staff.
The IRC’s history in Serbia
During the height of the Yugoslav wars, the IRC launched one of its largest humanitarian aid programmes, distributing food and medicine to refugees fleeing to Serbia and establishing reconstruction programmes ranging from a nationwide pharmacy network to microenterprise development. After 12 years of operations that assisted 230,000 displaced persons fleeing Kosovo and 700,000 refugees fleeing Croatia and Bosnia, the IRC closed its Serbia programme in 2004.
How to Help
The IRC is providing relief to millions of uprooted people in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Greece. We also support relocated refugees in the United States. For more information or to help, click to learn more.