AYS Digest 05/11: Serbia asks volunteers to stop helping refugees in the streets of Belgrade

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Photo by Refugee’s Anthem

In an “open letter”, the Serbian government says support for refugees in the streets of Belgrade should be stopped. Refugees remain hidden in northern France. 2,200 people rescued in the Mediterranean. Fundraisers for Syria and Lebanon.

Serbian government asks NGOs stop supporting refugees in the streets of Belgrade.

In an “open letter” to NGOs, the Serbian government has asked volunteers to stop supporting refugees living in the streets of Belgrade, arguing that they should be transferred to official reception centres where “all necessary assistance is available (food, shelter, clothing, medicine, psycho-social and health care).”

Gordon, from the NGO Info Park, believes this comes after big organizations like UNHCR, ECHO and UNICEF put pressure on the government to find a place for these people in camps. UNHCR also confirmed its “commitment to assist authorities in encouraging them to move to governmental facilities”.

Volunteers however note that there is very limited space available. While the Ministry has announced 1,300–1,400 open spaces, in reality only Presevo camp has 500 beds available, a camp notorious for pushing back refugees to Macedonia. The Krnjaca Asylum Centre for Belgrade is still understaffed and overcrowded. The government is also waiting for several new camps to open, but the number of beds, conditions and responsible organisations are still unknown.

As pointed out by several volunteers, this “open letter” has no legal standing but it nevertheless indicates that the government hopes to reduce support for refugees in Belgrade, and thereby push refugees towards official camps.

Several organisations working with refugees in the streets were already pressured by the government to close-down, with Info Park evicted from the park and the Asylum Info Center ordered to move out from its premises on Nemanjina street.

However, asking volunteers to stop providing essential services to refugees living in the city’s streets only hides and dismisses the problem. Belgrade remains a big transit spot for refugees trying to reach western Europe and refugees do not plan to stay in the country. More than 1,000 people sleep in unsanitary and unheated abandoned warehouses behind Belgrade’s main bus station, while temperatures continue to drop. Street support therefore remains essential, as the lack of help will not incentivize refugees to leave for camps but will only degrade their living conditions even further. Hygiene and health conditions are already terrible and temperatures will continue to worsen.

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The old warehouse behind the central train station in Belgrade were refugees sleep. Photo by Refugee’s Anthem
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Photo by Kimmie Whicher

Refugees remain hidden in northern France

After the destruction of the Calais camp, refugees remain hidden across northern France in “fields, garages or derelict buildings”, still hoping to reach the UK, according to the Guardian.

The Guardian however notes that the population of the official Grande-Synthe camp near Dunkirk seems to have jumped from 800 three weeks ago to around 1,400 this week, with volunteers saying that “huts designed to accommodate four people are often housing twice as many”.

In a blog post, Doctors of the World says Dunkirk has been forgotten.

Men, women and children are still arriving to northern France and many turn up at Grande-Synthe, an official camp in Dunkirk, asking for shelter. But since the French authorities took over the camp in April, they’ve been slowly reducing the number of people there, and now refuse entry to all new arrivals, even if it’s the middle of the night.

Equally, refugees who leave the camp, such as in an attempt to cross to the UK, are often prevented from returning to their shelters in the camp and are rendered homeless”.

As the situation changes in northern France, volunteer organizations are forced to adapt. Help Refugees needs new short-term volunteers, to prepare aid containers for Greece and Syria. They continue to supply aid to Dunkirk and plan to help Utopia 56 in supporting Paris’ camps. Help Refugees is also looking for a new Field Manager, Distribution Coordinator and Warehouse Supervisor and still needs donations, especially winter clothes.

Support for northern France is still needed, especially since Christian Salomé, from L’Auberge des Migrants, expects a surge in the numbers of people arriving to Calais a month from now, by which time the 6,000 taken by bus to temporary accommodation will have been told they must move on, either by claiming asylum or returning home.

Many will not want to claim asylum in France and will therefore return to Calais.

2,200 people rescued at sea

The NGO MOAS says 2,200 people crossed the Mediterranean today in 16 different vessel and ten bodies were sadly recovered during the mass search and rescue operations coordinated by the Italian Coast Guard. The boat “Responder” rescued over 700 people & assisted another 130 on a rubber boat while further assistance was called for.

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Yesterday, MOAS rescued 575 people on four different rubber dinghies.

Talking about the 3rd of November, when 239 people died at sea, doctor Pietro Bartolo, doctor of Lampedusa Poliambulatorio, said survivors of one of the several accidents told him that

while boarding on two crumbling dinghies, the smugglers shot a man dead, to convince them to get on board. The migrants had realized the dinghies were crumbling, and that the sea was not good for traveling. Notwithstanding this, the smugglers made them leave, and few hours after the tragedy happened”.

Baobab experience protests against refugees’ living conditions in Rome

Yesterday, Baobab experience pitched its tents in Piazzale Spadolini to protest against refugees’ living conditions in Rome. The group said “sleeping under the rain in November is NOT an adequate shelter for migrants in the city of Rome. A never-opened parking lot beside a train station is NOT an adequate shelter either, but what is even less adequate is for authorities to seal the entrance of such parking lot. Nonetheless, this is exactly what happened yesterday. For the whole of next week, rain will fall on the city of Rome, and it will fall on migrants all buckled up in their soaked sleeping bags, spending their night under the stars.”

Several times already, refugees have been chased away by police in Rome. End of September, refugees were evicted from via Cupa in Rome, leaving them to sleep in the streets.

“Tent to Home” connects vulnerable families with sponsors in northern Greece

Humanwire.org has launched the great “Tent to Home” initiative to connect vulnerable refugee families with sponsors that cover their rent and living expenses in an apartment for 6 months. Such a project is essential, given the harsh winter in northern Greece and the much longer than expected time families have had to spend in camps.

So far it costs only $4,416 to host one family for six moths and each sponsor can spend as little (and as much!) as he likes. Costs are broken down in a pretty transparent manner and “rewards” are offered, like in other crowdfunding projects. One of the vulnerable families that needs to be supported is Ibrahim and his pregnant wife. Ibrahim “was shot by a sniper while buying supplies for his store in Aleppo, Syria. The shrapnel is still lodged in his heart and he suffers severe heart and respiratory problems, which are exacerbated by the environment where he lives; an unheated tobacco factory converted into a refugee camp in northern Greece.

Mobile projects (re)-start operating

Two mobile projects have (re)-started operations , providing several camps with support.

The DocMobile team is on the road again, with completely new staff, and has had a lot of sick people arrive with respiratory problems. Colds are also spreading “like a running fire” given the camp environment. The group is constantly looking for donations and new help on the ground.

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The Echo Mobile Library has made its first stop in Elpida. “ Ali was the first to take the Duolingo placement test in English and requested to learn about English literature in exchange for knowledge on Arabic literature. Amer started a course about film-making and cinema on Coursera and Rana eagerly devoured the pages of a love story she checked out.” The Mobile Library will be in Elpida every Tuesday and Friday afternoon.

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Photo by ECHO Refugee Library
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Photo by ECHO Refugee Library

Fundraiser for foil blankets in Syria

Amidst continued bombing, doctors in Syria are appealing for foil blankets. Patients who survive bombings are rushed into hospitals for emergency surgery, but there are no spare clothes for them to wear after the surgery, meaning that many could die from critically low body temperature. These deaths can easily be prevented if they have foil blankets which retain heat and keep the patients warm post surgery. One Nation is fundraising until the 6th of November for 10,000 blankets which in total only cost £3500.

Help needed to winterise homes in the Beeka Valley

Help Refugees, with their local partner Salam LADC, is fundraising to help families in the Bekaa Valley, close to the Syrian border, winterise their shelters. Winter is approaching and the temperature in Bekaa drops as low as -11.

You will be able to provide:

a blanket for £4
a sleeping bag for £8
a carpet for £8
20 litres heating oil for £5.50
1000kg Firewood for £170
roof repair for one family home for £160
insulation for one family home for £250

Around 500,000 refugees living in the Bekaa Valley over half of whom are children. Many have been living in the same makeshift shelters, made from timber and plastic sheeting, for a number of years.

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Daily news digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and refugees on the route, but also for journalists and other parties.

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