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Serbia: Population Movement Emergency Plan of Action Final Report n° MDRRS011

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Situation Report
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A. Situation analysis

Description of the disaster

The Republic of Serbia (Serbia) witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of migrants and asylum seekers in the second half of 2015 and early 2016. In this period, over one million people arrived in Europe, with hundreds of thousands passing through the Western Balkans to reach other destinations in Western and Northern Europe. Serbia was the main corridor for people traveling from the former Yugoslav Republic (FYR) of Macedonia and the Republic of Bulgaria (Bulgaria) to the Republic of Croatia (Croatia) and further to Western European countries. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and Red Cross National Societies (NS) of affected countries were providing emergency relief and humanitarian assistance to vulnerable migrants in every country along the whole migratory route. During the time of the large-scale influx of refugees into Europe, from September 2015 until March 2016, more than 500,000 refugees and migrants arrived in and transited through Serbia according to UNHCR.1 The flow of the migrants from the FYR of Macedonia and Bulgaria to Serbia reached its peak by mid-October 2015. In the period between June and mid-October 2015, over 223,000 migrants were registered. In this initial phase, the daily figures often increased up to 10,000 persons. After the initial reception and registration, they continued their journey further along the migratory route, heading to other EU countries.

The government of Serbia immediately responded with the opening of a processing centre in Presevo at the border with the FYR Macedonia. New mobile reception centres were also opened in Zajecar, Negotin and Pirot at the border with Bulgaria. The high number of migrants and the increasing need for humanitarian assistance challenged the sustainability of the ongoing Red Cross operations, therefore additional assistance was required and was sought through the launch of an Emergency Appeal with the support of IFRC, which enabled the National Society to ensure the well-being, dignity and safety of the migrants, with special attention to marginalised groups (e.g. single mothers and their children) in transit.

As a result of the assessments conducted by RCS, the following locations had been prioritised to be supported by the Emergency Appeal (EA) operation: the municipalities of Presevo, Zajecar, Negotin, Dimitrovgrad, Pirot, Bujanovac two municipalities in Vojvodina, Kanjiza and Subotica, as well as the city of Belgrade. RCS focused on the following immediate actions: food distribution, hygiene promotion, health care with a particular focus on first aid (FA), NS contingency stocks, Restoring Family Links (RFL), NS capacity building and beneficiary communication and engagement with migrants.

RCS worked in close coordination with other international and local NGOs to optimise assistance and avoid overlaps – this included extending assistance to a further two municipalities in Vojvodina (Sid and Sombor). In Subotica and Kanjiza, as well as in Belgrade, the NS targeted migrants temporarily residing in public places (parks) or occupying abandoned buildings, (former factories like the brickyard in Subotica). The operation also targeted those who were temporarily accommodated in the transit centre in Belgrade. Needs were constantly being re-assessed in coordination with other organisations working in the same locations. The health services were provided by Belgrade city health authorities to those staying in the city parks, and the NS provided free Wi-Fi service 24/7.

Following the governmental decision of the ‘Balkan route’ countries (19 February 2016) to close the borders and to allow only three nationalities to enter the countries on the basis of the decision of the EU, and the introduction of the EUTurkey agreement, there were no new organised transits of migrants from the border with the FYR of Macedonia to the border with Croatia through Serbia. As a result, in the first months of 2016, significant changes occurred in the movements of refugees and migrants along the Balkan route. The above mentioned high level policy decisions led to dramatic decrease of migration flows through Serbia. From 1 March to 8 June 2016, 5,003 people entered Serbia, out of whom some 1,700 people remained stranded due to the restrictions imposed on further travels to the Western European countries. However, the flow did not stop fully. Serbia still received new arrivals mostly through the Serbian-Bulgarian border and the uncontrolled woods around the border with the FRY of Macedonia. Some 300 migrants moved towards Belgrade and Subotica on a daily basis, mostly families with children, waiting for the opportunity to cross the border with Hungary on their way to the EU member states.

Despite the lower number of migrants, the population movement continued to challenge the countries on the Balkan route in their response to the situation. The migrants were not able to continue with their journeys, therefore had to remain in the countries on the Balkan route for a longer period of time. This meant that their needs were different from those of people on the move, therefore, the National Society needed to adapt its operation to this new situation and plan its activities with a longer-term approach. RCS was still at the forefront of the humanitarian response, providing essential aid in the form of food, non-food items (NFI), hygiene promotion, health care, psychosocial support (PSS) and Restoring Family Links (RFL).

As of 1 December 2016, approximately 5,000 to 6,000 migrants were accommodated in Serbian governmental facilities, including five asylum centres and reception centres (Krnjaca, Bogovadja, banja Koviljaca, Tutin and Sjenica). In comparison to the initial phase, when people who transited through Serbia stayed in the country an average 72 hours, the situation in the second phase (from March 2016) was characterised by both an increased number of asylum seekers and significantly prolonged stay periods (up to 10 months). This situation prompted CRS/KIRS to increase its accommodation capacities by opening new centres with improved conditions. Table 1 below gives an overview of the strained accommodation facilities.

By December 2016, the number of newly-arrived refugees and migrants increased to some 7,800 people. In order to ensure better conditions for the refugees, migrants and asylum seekers staying the in the parks and unofficial sites in Belgrade, the CRS/KIRS invited them to move to the governmental centres, such as the Transit Centre (TC) in Subotica and the Reception Centre (RC) in Presevo in the north, near the border with Hungary. The government also established additional facilities in Obrenovac for the new arrivals from Belgrade.

The number of new refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Serbia continued to slightly decrease, with 6,618 counted on 4 June 2017, out of which 94 per cent were accommodated in 18 governmental shelters. Until July 2017, this number further dropped to 5,479 and to 4,026 in November 2017, and has stabilise around this level since.

Since the average stay of the person in the governmental centres was more than 10 months, their needs became more complex. Consequently, the government and all the responding humanitarian organisations needed to adapt their support to the new circumstances. While RCS focused its response to the needs of migrants and refugees in the field of protection, assistance, media coverage and humanitarian diplomacy, the CRS/KIRS with the support of NGOs organised different leisure activities in the governmental centres such as internet cafes, foreign language classes, sewing for women and various sports activities.