For refugee children in the Balkans, the crisis is not over
South East Europe continues to host refugees wishing to reach the European Union, with Serbia being the main transit country. At great expense and risk, many refugees attempt to carry on their journey onwards but are violently pushed back at the borders. They find themselves distressed, vulnerable, and blocked in a country which lacks protection services. For a year, Terre des hommes (Tdh) has helped make up for this lack with the Mother and Baby Corner (MBC) in Belgrade, set up in collaboration with Novi Sad Humanitarian Centre.
More than 2900 children and 1600 caregivers benefited from this safe space and its services, ranging from psychological support and counselling to recreational activities, and sanitary facilities. The Mother and Baby Corner was the first stop for refugee families just arriving in Belgrade after having spent days and nights walking. It became a refuge for those who left the reception centres and headed towards the EU borders, and for those who were pushed back from them. Our team encountered numerous exhausted children and parents who had their first meal and change of clothes after days spent out in the open.
Among them were Safia*, a 3-year-old girl from Afghanistan, and her mother, who reached Europe four months ago. They fled the dangers of their home country, where Safia survived the bombing of her kindergarten. Witnessing many casualties, Safia became very anxious. Her psychological state worsened after the traumatizing experience of trying to cross the Serbian-Hungarian border. In need of urgent assistance, Safia’s mother looked for help at our Mother and Baby Corner.
“The first time they came here, they were in great distress. Safia was screaming and kicking in her mother’s arms, she was hurting herself. The doctor concluded that she was physically healthy, but she needed psychosocial assistance. We provided emergency counselling to the mother and advised her to regularly visit the Corner,” recalls Mina Cavic, social worker at MBC. In the weeks that followed, Safia and her mother enjoyed the friendly space and were assisted by the Corner’s social workers and psychologist.
Step by step, the young girl became involved in various recreational activities and had the opportunity to play with other children. Safia started to regain calm: her anxiety attacks stopped, she began eating and sleeping normally, and playing again. “I was so happy to see my daughter smile again,” Safia’s mother told us. The family was provided with accommodation in a small reception centre in southern Serbia. As advised by our team, they settled there for a while, in order to ensure a stable environment and additional care for Safia.
The so-called closure of the Balkan migration route has caused numerous difficulties in the protection of child refugees. As the winter comes and more refugees arrive in Serbia, the Mother and Baby Corner, as the only space specifically for babies, small children, mothers and pregnant women, remains an essential service for the most vulnerable in Belgrade.
To know more about this topic, watch our video from Macedonia, a country that also faces a great influx of refugees who are transiting:
Macedonia: Protecting refugee children on their route
*The name and image of the girl were changed to protect her privacy.
Photo credit: ©Tdh