The latest stop in Lina’s journey from Iraq to the European Union is the bus stop in Belgrade, capital of Serbia. The trip began three weeks ago. Her family flew from Baghdad to Turkey, by ship to Greece, a train to Macedonia and then walked across the frontier to Serbia to travel to the capital. Their hope is to reach Germany.
Her story is becoming all too familiar. Conflicts, poverty and persecution in the Middle East, Asia and Africa has seen a marked increase in 2015 in the flow of refugees and economic migrants to the European Union through the route of Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia.
Some officials estimate that thousands of people a day are arriving in Serbia. It’s hard to give an accurate number. Most of the newcomers don’t want to stay in Serbia. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, says until now over 66,000 people have asked for asylum in Serbia, among whom 4,000 were unaccompanied minors.
In Presevo, a border town near Macedonia, the Serbian government has turned an abandoned building into a reception centre. It can shelter 350 people in tents, but the needs are much greater.
Caritas is providing food and improving hygiene in the centre in Presevo through local partners supported by Caritas Luxembourg and Caritas Austria. Refugees and migrants receive food, hygiene parcels and mobile showers and toilet units.
Many migrants and refugees are sleeping in forests, parks and public places. At first it was mostly men, but now it’s women and children.
Beyan is another new arrival. She is staying in the park in Belgrade. Like the majority of those coming to Serbia, she is from Syria. She is one of the over 4 million people forced to flee nearly half a decade of civil war.
Her compatriots have mostly stayed in the region, but now Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have no more room. With no end in sight to the fighting and no prospect of going home, Syrians are gambling on taking the perilous and expensive trip to Europe.
At the moment Beyan is waiting for a bus north to get to the Hungarian border, but all the buses are full. The aim is to reach somewhere like Horgos, a border town which now looks more like a refugee camp.
From there, Beyan can try to get across the border from non-EU Serbia to EU Hungary. Many attempt to cross into Hungary through open country. If caught, Hungarian police have the right to return them to Serbia. Once in the Schengen Area, travel is possible to other EU countries.
Hungary is building a wall, expected to be finished by the end of August, to reduce the numbers illegally crossing the 175 km border. At the same time, Germany has announced a toughening up of its asylum policy.
This will result in much longer periods of stay in Serbia, a country struggling with poverty itself. The migrants and refugees need shelter ahead of the colder autumn weather, clean water, food for babies and protection.
Caritas Serbia is ready to respond when there is an action plan from the Serbian government. The response will be with the two dioceses covering the entry and exit points: Caritas Belgrade and Caritas Subotica respectively.
CRS, a Caritas member based in the United States, is working with local diocesan Caritas staff, as well as the Orthodox Church, UNHCR and other local partners to support food, medical, hygiene, shelter, non-food items, legal assistance and counselling for hundreds of refugees and migrants.
Caritas Luxembourg is also supplying detergents and protective material to improve hygienic conditions in all reception centres.