Supporting Syrian refugees in Serbia

Refugees wait to register for a travel permit in Serbia. Photo: Simon Tarling/Oxfam
Refugees from Afghanistan and the Middle East wait to register for a 72 hour travel permit in a migrant and refugee center in Presevo, Serbia, on October 4, 2015

The Syrian displacement crisis is spreading and deepening. As the barrel bombs, massacres, air strikes and mortars continue inside Syria, aid is drying up and living conditions in neighboring countries are toughening.  These failures - along with a continuation of the bloodshed and fear - will intensify the Syrian refugee crisis and entrench it for a generation.

Oxfam will start a new humanitarian program in Serbia – aimed at around €1 million to help some of the thousands fleeing to safety, including many Syrians, who will soon face a Balkans winter with few resources to cope. We work in the top nine countries of origin for refugees around the world as well as countries like Lebanon and Jordan which border Syria.

We met some of them. Here are their stories.

A refugee family wait in Serbia to continue their journey on to GermanyMariam Bazr Bashi, 29, from Damascus waits to board a bus after registering for a 72 hour travel permit in a migrant and refugee center in Presevo, Serbia, on October 4, 2015. 

Mariam had been travelling for 7 days from Turkey via Macedonia with her two sons Ali, 7 and Abbas, 4. Ali suffers from muscular dystrophy and can't walk. Mariam carried him as far as Serbia before she was given a wheelchair. She intends to go to Germany to get treatment for her son. Her husband is still in Syria.
A father and his daughter, both refugees, walk towards a registration centre for migrants to get travel permits in SerbiaAhmad, a refugee from Syria, and his daughter Nour, walk towards a registration center for migrants and refugees in Presevo, in southern Serbia, on October 4, 2015

After registering, the refugees here are given a 72-hour permit to travel onwards through Serbia to Croatia. He and the group he's walking with had already travelled for 20 kilometers that day.

Riccardo Sansone, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Serbia, said: “People are arriving here exhausted, hungry and thirsty and often in need of urgent medical attention. They are traumatized and have often been abused by the smugglers and human trafficking networks. Water and sanitation facilities are insufficient along all migration routes because Serbia was not expecting such numbers."A young girl and her mother wait to be reunited with her father

Mawia, 4, and her mother wait be reunited with Mawia's father, Mahamoud Abdullah Othman, after getting split up in the crowd at a registration center for migrants and refugees in Presevo, in southern Serbia, on October 4, 2015. Mahamoud said that his family had been waiting three days to register for a permit to travel onwards through Serbia.

Sansone said efforts made by the Serbian Government to prepare for refugees should be strengthened and supported. Serbia has called for international assistance. Refugees already face the prospect of a bitterly cold winter. “Families with small children are sleeping in the open air in parks, bus and train stations and in the bush at crossing points. They are highly exposed to the risk of robbery, sexual violence and other abuses,” he said.

“Refugees from Syria and other countries have the right to be free from violence, to basic needs and dignity, and to the welcome of a safe haven,” said Oxfam Executive Director Winnie Byanyima. “They are being short-changed on all three fronts. There will be no end to the suffering of people from Syria until action is taken on these issues.”

Photos: Sam Tarling/Oxfam