Needs continue to increase on the migration trail through Serbia
Hundreds of people arrive at the Serbian border with small bags and blankets. After going through the pre-reception centre in Miratovac, they smile and shake hands with each other and with local residents.
By Tommaso Della Longa, IFRC
“We made it,” said a man from Palmyra, Syria. “Now we must travel on to the northern border and we will finally arrive.” On his mobile phone is a recent picture of his 10-month-old daughter, who is still in Syria. “We don’t have enough money, so my family is still there. I will find a way to bring them here, but my dream is to return home when there is no war.”
Between 22-23 August, 9,000 migrants crossed the border between the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia. During the first half of 2015, 37,000 people made the same trip, but the numbers may be double this for the second half of the year. The majority of people come from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, fleeing conflict in search of safety.
The Red Cross of Serbia is supporting the humanitarian response of the local and national authorities. Staff and volunteers provide fresh water, food and hygiene kits to those coming into the reception centres in the north and south of the country. Up to 200 volunteers are active in the response.
Ljubomir Miladinovic, Head of the International Relations Department of the Red Cross of Serbia, said the organization’s efforts had escalated in recent months. “In June, we were distributing almost 400 food parcels daily at the Preshevo reception centre,” he said. “From the middle of July we doubled the number and in recent days we are distributing up to 1,400 food parcels. Humanitarian needs are growing. Our volunteers and staff are working almost 24/7 in reception centres and other places where people are passing through.”
One man at the reception centre said he was dreaming of getting to Germany. “Two weeks ago I was in Anbar, Iraq. My trip was short because I’m alone and I have some money,” he said. “But children, elderly people and women really risk their lives. The journey can be dangerous. Tomorrow I will be at the northern border.”
When people arrive at the Preshevo reception centre, they receive a Red Cross coupon for food and water. Assistance is prioritized for the most vulnerable including women and children, people with disabilities, elderly people, single parent families and those with specific protection needs.
“We know very well what it means to escape from a war,” said one Red Cross volunteer. “It’s a tragedy and we must help people as much as possible.”
Within hours another group arrives at the border and the process of receiving people begins again. Traffic on the western Balkans migratory route continues to rise, and the arrival of autumn and winter will bring cold weather and increased humanitarian needs.