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Refugee crisis: How we’re connecting stranded families in Serbia

Rifat and his family are Syrian refugees stranded in Serbia. They hope to reach Germany eventually.
Rifat and his family are Syrian refugees stranded in Serbia. They hope to reach Germany eventually.

“I haven’t been to school in three years,” says 16-year-old Rifat. A Syrian refugee, he has been stranded at the Presevo refugee centre in south-eastern Serbia for several months now.

Before that Rifat, his parents and his two younger brothers lived as refugees in Turkey and Lebanon. Rifat and his family are just four of the 4.6 million people who have fled Syria since the civil war erupted five years ago.

The power of the internet

They are trying to get to Germany where his youngest brother, 13-year-old Sami, is living with an uncle. It is not uncommon for families to have sent a child ahead of them – for many it is all they can afford.

Rifat on a laptop at the ICT corner, Presevo, Serbia
Our ICT corners are helping families access vital information and reconnect with loved ones

Rifat regularly chats with his brother using Whatsapp and Facebook – he is able to get access to the internet thanks to the ICT corner that has been set up by SOS Children’s Villages at the refugee centre in Presevo. Without this service he worries they would lose contact. He spends most of his days huddled over a keyboard, messaging his brother as well as his friends back home in Syria. “They tell me they have been made to join the army,” he says with dismay. “They are only 16!”

“I want to have a good life”

Adjusting to life as a refugee has been tough for Rifat. “We were doing well in Syria,” he says. “My dad had a furniture business and he would go on many nosiness trips abroad. But now he hasn’t worked since we left Syria. In Lebanon I had to work as a waiter. In Turkey, I ironed people’s clothes.”

But the difficulties he has faced over the past year have not dulled his optimism. “I want to have a good life, go to school and live somewhere safe,” he smiles. “Right now it’s not safe in Syria, but if the war ends tomorrow, my family and I will go back.”

Supporting refugees in Serbia

Since early 2015, we have been supporting refugees across Europe, providing them with aid as well as offering children and their families safe places to rest and recuperate. Some 600,000 refugees passed through Serbia in 2015 alone, 180,000 of them children.

We have been:

  • Distributing food and water to children and their families as they travel through Serbia. As of December 2015, over 19,000 food packages had been distributed.
  • Giving mums with young children hygiene and baby-care packs.
  • Providing weather-appropriate clothing and shoes to children and young people.
  • Running a Child-Friendly Space at the asylum information centre in Belgrade. Here, children are able to escape from the chaos that surrounds them and play and relax in a clean, safe environment and parents are able to access information about the next stage of their journey. Between September and December 2015, 4,698 children and mothers had made use of the Space.

SOS team member in Presevo, Serbia
One of the SOS team helps a refugee family in Presevo, Serbia
  • Assisting in the running of a mother and baby corner in collaboration with World Vision and UNICEF, in Adasevci on the Croatian border. Here mums are able to breast-feed in a relaxed, warm and private environment as well as benefit from the services of a nurse. They also have access to nutritional advice and a changing and baby-bathing area with a fresh supply of nappies. Since December, nearly 800 children and mothers have benefited from the services offered in Adasevci.
  • Reuniting lost children with their families and caring for unaccompanied children thanks to the work of our mobile team, which visits refugee locations in the north-western and south-eastern areas of the country.
  • Running three much-needed ICT corners with free internet, computers, printers, photocopiers and mobile phone chargers. Here refugees can access information and communicate with family members. Almost 3,000 people a day make use of these facilities and nearly 108,000 people have made use of them since we opened them last year.

Help us continue to be there for as many refugee families as possible. 

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