human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Caritas Serbia cares for those turned back by Europe

“I’ve heard that my husband is in Croatia! What should I do?” Ines (not her real name) looks troubled and desperate. She is an elderly woman from Iraq who is staying in the asylum centre of Krnjaca in Belgrade. Her husband disappeared during their way along the Balkan route and she has just heard from someone that he has been seen in Croatia. The Caritas team, composed of an Arabic-translator, a psychologist and a social worker, that is present in the centre was able to calm her and advise her about what she could do next.

A Caritas delegation from across Europe was visiting Krnjaca that day. They witnessed first-hand this situation and the every-day work that Caritas Serbia is doing for the migrants staying in the centre.

Originally established for people applying for asylum in Serbia, the conditions to stay at the Krnjaca centre have evolved with the new migration situation. The Commissariat for the Refugees of the Republic of Serbia, which is in charge of the centre, decided to also open the centre for those who are just transiting through the country on their way to the European Union. It offers them a place to get some rest in Belgrade during their journey.

Some representatives of the Commissariat met with the Caritas delegation. They said that the profile of the people arriving to the centre has changed. More and more are from African countries. They were sent back to the Croatian border and who eventually decided to go back to Belgrad. According to the representatives of the Commissariat, this is the back-side of Germany’s and Austria’s decision to only allow migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to enter their territories. Those coming from other countries have to turn back. Many of them come back to Krnjaca. For this reason, Belgrade is becoming, once again, a very important place for helping refugees and migrants.

The centre provides a warm shelter with showers and free meals. Caritas is supporting the centre with 3 different type of actions: counselling and translation services, provision of  non-food and food items (hygiene kits, clothes, shoes, socks, winter hats and food packs for those arriving in the late evening when the kitchen is closed) and logistic support in terms of equipment for the building, such as washing and drying machines, boilers and faucets.

Besides being active in the centre, Caritas Serbia also provides food, hygiene kits, clothes and shoes in the park near the main railway and bus station of the city. Many refugees choose to gather there during the day.
Since September 2015, Caritas Serbia has helped around 150,000 migrants in Serbia.