Our stay in the ‘White City’ taught us that Belgrade as a city of transit it is one strategic stop along the Balkan Route for refugees fleeing to Western Europe.
First, we were able to meet Ivan Miskovic for coffee. Ivan is a spokesperson of the Serbian Commissariat for Refugees and Migration and gave us an overview of the current situation of refugees who are passing through Serbia. He highlighted the response of the Serbian government in response to the ongoing influx. People are still crossing into the country despite the supposedly closed Western Balkan Route, and in recent days they have witnessed an increase in daily arrivals including from Bulgaria, according to Ivan.
Last Monday we then visited Camp Krnjaca, one of the five official reception centers run by Serbian authorities. Once a refugee is registered on Serbian territory, he or she has 72 hours to reach one of these camps. There they then can stay as long as they need to recharge and to prepare for the rest of their journey while receiving food, clothes and shelter. Even free language classes in Serbian are offered for the few who wish to stay and seek official asylum. In Krnjaca, Timo and I were positively surprised to find stable barracks instead of tents, a proper kitchen cooking three meals a day, sufficient medical presence and 24/7 support by employees of the Commissariat. We felt that there was an organized structure at work and that the inhabitants of the camp were treated with human dignity.
The headquarters of Red Cross Serbia are located in the capital. We used the opportunity and spoke with Ljubomir Miladinovic, who is the Head of the Departement for International Relations. He mainly pointed out the balanced approach of the Red Cross society in Serbia when it comes to addressing migration. In every operation they try to provide support in an indiscriminate way. This means that they not only include local communities when providing aid, but also respect the effects on other groups of disadvantage.
Also located in the center of Belgrade is Refugee Aid Serbia, which was our next stop. There we met their volunteer coordinator Felix Thomson, who informed us about the nature of this local NGO. Afterwards, we were allowed to witness one of their distributions in the park across their office. Every day at 5 pm, warm food and hygiene products are passed out to the people who are sleeping in the park that night. We were truly impressed by the courageous and hard work everyone from the RAS team was doing that day, and hope they will continue to succeed with their efforts to provide direct assistance in the future.
On Wednesday, we drove up to Kelebija and transformed your generous financial donations into hygiene and wash kits. You can read more about this visit and our follow-up meeting with the UNHCR in our last post.
Now, Timo and I are about to leave Serbia and cross into FYROM. Stay tuned!
To be continued…