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Serbia Crisis Watch

The International Rescue Committee provides vital support to refugees passing through Serbia in search of safety and relief.

What's happening

  • As unusually cold temperatures grip Europe, the IRC and our partners in Serbia are providing winter clothing, food, medicine and other emergency aid to refugees fleeing Afghanistan and other countries in conflict.

  • We are especially concerned about the safety of refugees sleeping in unheated, makeshift shelters rather than in refugee camps, where they fear officials will send them home. Many are children traveling alone: We are providing specialised support for them

  • The IRC is also supporting government-run refugee centers by providing 10 tons of heating fuel, as well as heating equipment, furniture, baby food and diapers.

Country facts
  • Population: 7 million
  • People displaced by crisis: 600,000 refugees migrants (despite that the Balkan route has been declared closed by authorities, hundreds of refugees continue to enter Serbia daily)
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 66 of 188
IRC response
  • Started work in Serbia: 1992 (during the break-up of Yugoslavia, suspended in 2004, relaunched in 2015 for refugee crisis)
  • People assisted: 60,000 (since 2015)

Serbia crisis briefing

Serbia, located in the Balkans, has long been a stopover for refugees journeying to northern Europe. The IRC provides them with the information and resources they need for safe and legal passage.

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What caused the current crisis in Serbia?

More than a million refugees have sought sanctuary in Europe since 2015 as conflict continues to plague Syria and Afghanistan. Serbia is often a way station on their seemingly endless journey to safety.

The implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement has not stopped refugees from seeking alternate routes into Europe. Thousands of refugees continue to transit through Serbia. Many remain vulnerable to the lure of smugglers promising easy passage.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Serbia?

The EU-Turkey agreement officially closed the migrant route through Serbia but hundreds of refugees continue to enter the country daily. Without proper registration and legal ways to travel, these refugees often forego basic needs like food and shelter.

Thousands of refugees remain in desperate need of shelter, food, water, medical supplies and other basic resources. Pregnant women, elderly people and children are particularly vulnerable to the strain of travel.

Without proper protection and information, refugees determined to continue their journey to Europe are vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers and other criminals.

How does the IRC help in Serbia?

The IRC’s mission is to provide humanitarian assistance, protection and other support to refugees whose lives have been shattered by conflict and disaster.

We first began our work in Serbia in 1992, distributing food and medicine to refugees of the Yugoslav wars. After 12 years of operations that assisted a million people, the IRC closed its programme in 2004. In response to the recent migrant crisis, we restarted relief efforts in October 2015.

As refugees continue to transit through Serbia, the IRC is partnering with local aid organisations in Belgrade, in designated asylum centres, and along the borders with Macedonia, Bulgaria and Hungary in order to:

  • provide refugees with essential information about safe accommodations;
  • support mobile teams to provide roving services, protection monitoring, and referrals to women, children and other vulnerable individuals;
  • provide one-on-one psychological support to women, children and other vulnerable individuals;
  • provide safe spaces and emergency shelters for women and girls who have survived violence and abuse;
  • build the capacity of our partners and other service providers to ensure they have the resources they need to protect women, children and other vulnerable individuals;
  • distribute food, clothing, hygiene items and other necessary nonfood items;
  • set up WiFi and mobile-phone charging stations;
  • support waste management programmes in two municipalities severely affected by the refugee crisis.

What still needs to be done?

The IRC is expanding its programming for women and girls who continue to travel the Balkan route in search of sanctuary. The IRC is also building a robust network of protection programmes for unaccompanied children travelling through Serbia and neighbouring countries.

Our impact

In 2015, the IRC and our partner organisations in Serbia provided:


emergency kits equipped with toiletries and other essential supplies.

We help those who are experiencing or recovering from conflict and disaster reduce their risk of falling ill and receive treatment when they do get sick.

Explore our health work.

people with counselling and other psychosocial support.

The IRC educates people about ways they can support their own emotional and mental wellbeing and cope with stress.

Explore our health work.

food aid packages for refugees travelling through the Balkan route.

We help ensure that people in crisis areas have what they need to survive—including food, water, shelter and basic household items

Learn more.

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