08 Jul 2021
By: RO Vienna

You don't see many migrant families in Serbia. Younger men from Arab, Asian and certain African countries – their presence in Serbia stopped being surprising years ago. There are, however, about 150 families from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa, at the Šid Reception Centre in the north of the country. The numbers change from day to day, as some arrive, and others leave

The parents are weary from the thwarted attempts to cross the border, physically and financially exhausted, worried about the future, but the children are cheerful and smiling.

Most of the children do not know anything better. The youngest ones, born somewhere along the way, between the parents’ homeland and their destination country, cannot even image what it means to have a home, to have their own room, toys… There is a five-month-old baby among them. She is a girl from Šid – she was born in the Centre and her name is Jelena. Her parents were waiting for winter to pass, for her to get a bit stronger, and then to take a chance again and try to cross the border irregularly – to “get back in the game”.

“They are tired, exhausted physically, mentally and financially, but they are not giving up. Most of them don’t have a place to go back to, so they use this Centre to gather their strength and nurse wounds, between attempts to cross the border,” explains Centre Manager, Commissariat for Refugees and Migration`s Nikola Sakan (28).

He is also responsible for coordinating with colleagues frokm IOM, medical teams, and volunteers from humanitarian organisations…

“Most of our residents, especially the families that have been living in the Centre for three years, are overcome by feelings of despair and of being stranded, fear for the future of their children", explains Irena Stojadinović, psychologist with the Psychosocial Innovation Network (PIN) non-governmental organisation. "Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, the principal worry has been for their lives and health. Adding to that the fact that they live in collective accommodation, not in their own home, it is clear that there are considerable relationships challenges, that their parental capacities are being put to the test, and that they need significant psychosocial and psychological support. This is exactly what we provide to them.” 

Every Wednesday, with the support of a translator, Irena provides individual psychological counselling and support to families at the Centre. She says that children cope better. They are young and the only things that matter to them are playing, socialising, and learning. Thanks to Dušan Škorić (29), who has been with them since last June, they can laugh again – sincerely, wholeheartedly, as only children can.

“I have been working with vulnerable groups for years, and since I am a pre-school teacher by vocation and am also originally from this region, from the village of Višnjićevo, it was natural to start working with the children." says Dušan. In the beginning we found it quite difficult to communicate, but then I started to learn Farsi and things are quite different now. I organise creative sports workshops for them, depending on their age, the weather, the current structure and number of children, and I am here to help them to do their schoolwork. The classes are held online, they have their assistants, but they also have me to jump in when needed.”

The kids simply love him, but Dušan does his best not to get attached to them because most of these families stay for a short period of time.

Unlike Dušan, Aleksandar Sekelj has been an IOM facilitator for only two months. He runs the IT corner, which, similarly to the sports workshop, is organised within the current IOM project “Addressing COVID-19 challenges within the Migrant and Refugee Response in the Western Balkans”, funded by the EU Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace in Europe.

Aleksandar works with children and youth developing basic digital communication and computer skills.

“The IT corner was created with the aim of enabling the beneficiaries to have some quality time and learn something that will be useful to them at school or work. Everything is adapted to the children’s age, but also to their interests. Unfortunately, there is no time for more serious work, as most of them stay here for a short period of time.”

It’s true, they do not stay for long, but it is indisputable that many of them leave Serbia empowered, encouraged, somewhat healed, and convinced that on their way they will come across other good people, like Nikola, Irena, Dušan, Aleksandar, Andrej, Doctor Sneža, and others who helped them in Serbia when things were the hardest.