We met this morning with Marija, from the organisation Atina, who work to minimise human trafficking, a very common issue in this type of crisis. She was able to provide us with some useful advice regarding potential restrictions that could be imposed by the authorities and provided us with further contacts for other NGOs.
On the way back from the meeting, we stopped off at the historic Belgrade Fort, which just happened to have a really illuminating exhibition documenting UNHCR’s background in Serbia over the past forty years.
The consequences of war and the mass displacement of people are sewn into the fabric of Serbia. The immediate familiarity of the images of the mass movement of people in the Balkans in the mid-90s illustrated perfectly the numerous parallels between the current refugee crisis and what many of the people of the Balkans faced themselves so recently.
Although the current crisis is unprecedented in scale since World War II, this was a timely reminder that the world has never been free from a refugee crisis since UNHCR was formed in 1950. More importantly, it offered encouragement for the future; chronicling everything that has been achieved by UNHCR in conjunction with the Serbian authorities. From the early days of collective centres, where people slept amassed on the floor in gymnasiums and sport centres, to the successful integration that was later achieved through schemes such as: the distribution of building materials, the donation of village houses, vocational training, micro-loans and legal/social counselling. To see the progress charted out provided us with hope and guidance for the present and future.
If the same spirit of cooperation can be engendered again, and the political will is there, we believe the same positive outcomes can still be achieved for the majority of the refugees in the Balkans today. We feel more determined than ever at The Timber Project to help the people currently sleeping rough on the Serbo Hungarian border take that first step towards rebuilding their lives - that first step of the long journey that so many people of the Balkan’s took themselves over twenty years ago.
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