The Serbian winter is always cold. In past years, temperatures could reach a few grades below zero. This year they have reached -20°C in Belgrade, while in southern Serbia, they reached -30°C. The problem is not only the cold weather, but also the heavy snow.
These extreme weather conditions have had a serious impact on refugees and poor people in Serbia. There are 7,200 refugees and migrants officially in Serbia. Eight out of ten are staying in one of the sixteen government shelters. Many of those shelters are full. The rest are sleeping rough in Belgrade city centre or near the border with Hungary.
Following recommendations from the government’s Ministry of Social Affairs and its Commissariat for the Refugees and Migrations, Caritas focuses on the official refugee centres. Caritas provides food, clothes and hygiene.
“In the refugee and asylum centres in Belgrade, Presevo and west Serbia, Caritas is providing food such as fresh pastries and warm soup. The delivery is going well, in spite of the difficult weather conditions,” said Darko Tot from Caritas Serbia. “In the official refugee centres, the situation is good.”
According to the authorities, over 1,200 refugees and migrants are sleeping rough in the city centre of Belgrade, in ruined barracks behind the city bus station. There they light fires in order to try to keep warm. For the ones sleeping outside, life is very difficult.
“The situation is very different for the ones sleeping in abandoned barracks,” he said. “In these extremely low temperatures, their lives are threatened. They are making fires in order to warm up which are a threat as accidents could happen.”
The government considers assistance outside of regular centres as encouraging migrants to stay in dangerous conditions.
“Migrants are complaining of the cold, but they do not want to be relocated in refugee centres or to be registered. They would just like to go north, close to the border with Hungary, where existing centres are already full,” said Darko Tot.
In the north of Serbia, there are other refugees and migrants staying in the open, under tents near Hungarian border. According to their words, they don’t want to miss their “place in the line” by going back once they have reached border with the European Union.
Caritas Serbia is also supporting poor and vulnerable Serbian families affected by the extreme weather.