In the continual worsening situation of the European refugee crisis, more than 200,000 refugees mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have entered Serbia from the Macedonia border since June last year. Near the end of December 2015, Tzu Chi Foundation has learned that Serbia desperately requires humanitarian aids to support the daily arrival of asylum seekers numbering up to an average of 2000 people per day, most of whom are in desperate need of winter clothing and sanitary supplies following a long, cold and arduous journey.
Following a visit to Serbia, Tzu Chi quickly decided to distribute winter clothing at the Refugee rest stop in Adasevci by the northern border of Serbia, a transit rest center on one of the most major refugee trafficking routes in the Western Balkans, from where they will be taken to Sid Train Station for trains to Croatia. A total of 10,500 sets of winter clothing including jackets, socks, caps, scarfs and gloves have been purchased by the end of February ready for distribution.
On March 1st, 46 Tzu Chi Volunteers from 10 countries gathered at Adasevci for the first relief of 1,080 pieces of winter clothing. However, following an unexpected sudden closure of the Macedonia-Serbia border in the morning of the same day, only one bus carrying about 60 refugees arrived at the rest stop. Tzu Chi volunteers delivered the clothing sets directly into the hands of the transiting refugees, providing not only the physical supplies, but warmth and comfort in the long difficult winter journey.
In this first relief effort, the team of Tzu Chi Volunteers has included the The Speaker of the Assembly of the Municipality of Samac, Predrag Marinkovic, from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Having received Tzu Chi’s aid support during the 2014 Southeast European Flood, the Samac Municipal Assembly Speaker is leading a team of volunteers and providing 15 manpower from Bosnia daily to help the distribution in Serbia. Marinkovic: “For me and all (Bosnian) volunteers, we will always remember the help from Taiwan and Master Cheng Yen. It doesn’t matter that we are from different countries or how far apart, we want to help.” Marinkovic has promised to stay for as long as the first distribution will endure. (16 volunteers so far were victims in the 2014 Flood, two of which had received Tzu Chi’s relief aid and volunteered in the second flood relief effort.)
Although the refugee transit via Serbia are currently experiencing a sudden drop following the new refugee arrival cap imposed by Macedonia and Serbia, the distribution is expected to continue at least for a total of 10 days. Tzu Chi Foundation is currently looking into possibilities to help any refugees staying in Serbia or the neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina, hoping to deliver love and blessings in the time of crisis.
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