Convening partnerships which engage and deliver trust and solidarity
20 Jun 2017
“My name is Ali Akbari, I’m from Afghanistan, but for the past five months the town of Preševo, in Serbia, has been my home. I’ve been travelling with my mother, my three sisters and my nephew.
There’s no work for them here, so our plan is to move to Hungary or someplace else. I like it here, If I were travelling alone, I would consider staying here. I speak English, maybe I could find a job here, work as a translator“ says Ali, who is one of 583 migrants and refugees currently located in the Preševo Reception Centre.
Although Ali is only 21, before embarking on a 14-month long journey, Ali had successfully run his own travel agency back in Afghanistan for years. “Something that I had built for three years I had to close down in two hours and take my family to safety.”
Over a million refugees and migrants have transited through Serbia since the onset of the ongoing refugee and migration crisis. The number of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants currently located in Serbia is over 6,000, with more than 90% accommodated in 18 centers located across Serbia, primarily in border municipalities closest to either points of entry or desired exit from the country.
Such influx of refugees and migrants has affected municipal infrastructure and quality of services, which struggle to cope with increased demand. “The capacities are based on the number of inhabitants; it’s not planned for small Preševo with 30,000 or Šid with 60,000 to have additional 300,000 people using the same local services that you need every day. A doctor from Preševo explained that they give this one ambulance car, which they have, to support some of the migrants, to send them to the hospital in Vranje, 42km away, in this moment they have none for the residents all around our municipality,” says Mr. Vladimir Cucić, Commissioner for Refugees and Migration in the Republic of Serbia.
The rapid depreciation of public assets and deterioration of the quality of local services is not the only problem – the shire numbers of migrants and refugees in small communities which are no longer transiting but staying for prolonged periods impacts the social cohesion of local communities bearing the brunt of the burden.
This is where UNDP delivers invaluable support by convening development partners and implementing programmes in a dynamic fashion which responds to the evolving nature of this crisis. Working in partnership with Serbian government and local authorities, on one hand, and thanks to support by USAID Serbia and Japanese Government. Preševo and other municipalities in Serbia such as Subotica, Kanjiža, Šid, Dimitrovgrad and Bosilegrad, which have been most affected by the migration crisis, were provided help at critical times to bolster local resilience, improve infrastructure and assets, but also to enhance trust, solidarity and reinforce social cohesion.
By working in close partnership with the Serbian Commissariat for Refugees and Migration, Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Governance and Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs infrastructural upgrades and improvement of local services focused on municipal water supply systems or waste management. However, by renovating local fairgrounds, community meeting centers such as “Vašarište”, playgrounds and sports facilities partners could open new venues for residents, refugees and migrants to interact, build trust and enhance solidarity. Together, locals, refugees and migrant volunteers re-painted benches in Belgrade city’s Kalemegdan park, renovated the playgrounds of a sports center in Kikinda and cleaned-up the litter problem in the village of Miratovac, just outside Preševo, the entry point into Serbia where we met Ali.
He, like so many other refugees and migrants now facing protracted stay in Serbia, wanted to not only say thank you to the residents, but also to do something in return for the hospitality shown by local people. “I volunteered, together with 6 other people from the Preševo Reception Center. Even more people were interested to volunteer and help clean-up the village.” With its focus on providing development responses to the ongoing crisis, UNDP continues to create that space for collaboration and trust, ensuring border municipalities in Serbia not only remain the strong platform for direct assistance to displaced in need, but also more resilient communities with enhanced capacities for own sustainable development.