The International Organization for Migration estimates that 350,000 refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa have crossed into the European Union between January and August of 2015, a significant increase over previous years. The largest group are those fleeing civil war in Syria, followed by smaller populations from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Nigeria and Kosovo.
One prominent route that migrants and refugees take to reach the EU by land is from Turkey to Hungary through Greece, Macedonia and Serbia. In recent years, Serbia has emerged as an important recipient country of migrants and asylum seekers, primarily due to conflict in Syria.
At of the end of July, the number of asylum seekers in Serbia had grown to 79,782, and at least 50,000 have crossed into Serbia without registering. Few intend to stay in Serbia; their goal is to cross into the EU member nations of Hungary, Bulgaria or Croatia. Applying for asylum gives them legal permission to stay in Serbia while they make their way north towards Serbia’s borders with EU nations.
Currently, Serbia has five regular and two temporary shelters to serve refugees and migrants, and a third temporary shelter will be built in the border town of Miratovac. These shelters have been strained by the recent increase in refugees. As of mid-August, there has been a clear increase in the number of especially vulnerable people such as pregnant women or those who are ill or dehydrated crossing the border into Serbia. Of particular concern are reports of human trafficking across the Serbian-Hungarian border.
The influx of new arrivals has increased the need for services such as food, water, clothing and medical support. As winter approaches and some of the routes from Serbia into the EU become inaccessible, the population of refugees and migrants in Serbia is expected to grow and additional needs will become even more critical.
CWS is in the early phase of a response. Our staff and partners continue to travel throughout Serbia to monitor the situation. Initially, CWS is supporting Red Cross programs that provide food to 1,600 migrants and refugees at a center in the southern town of Presevo. Another appeal will be issued shortly with more specifics on the CWS response within Serbia.
HOW TO HELP
Contributions to support CWS emergency response efforts may be sent to your denomination or to Church World Service, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515. Donations to our emergency response efforts around the globe may also be made online.
CWS is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of churches and agencies engaged in development, humanitarian assistance and advocacy.