Protecting Syrian Refugees in Serbia from a Frigid Balkans Winter

National Headquarters  |  March 7, 2016

The Syrian refugee crisis continues with no end in sight and millions of Syrians currently displaced and in distress. The thousands who are now in Serbia made it there after a grueling journey that began with passage through Turkey then across the Augean Sea at the risk of drowning. They then faced a trek of hundreds of miles on foot through Greece and Macedonia, only to arrive in Serbia exhausted, with a large distance left to travel towards their final destination in the EU.

Fatigue and despair are not the only issues Syrian refugees face in Serbia: Most are also struggling to survive the brutal cold of a Balkans winter, with many sleeping outdoors in the open air. In response to their urgent need for life-sustaining warmth, a team of 60 Tzu Chi volunteers from 14 countries gathered at the Adaševci Refugee Transit Center and the Sid Refugee Aid Point in Serbia on February 26th, and on March 1st began a 10 day distribution of winter clothing, handing out 2,060 sets of jackets, beanies, scarves, gloves and socks.

Tzu Chi has a unique way of providing disaster relief, and central to our approach are gratitude for being able to help, and a commitment to deliver aid in a personal way, with utmost respect for the recipient. When coming to the aid of refugees, this philosophy is of particular importance. Given the enormous scope of the refugee crisis in Europe and it’s escalating gravity, local sympathy for the plight of refugees is not guaranteed. This lack of empathy can add a further burden of sorrow for people already in tragic circumstances.  

For Tzu Chi volunteers in Serbia, the chance to personally offer their love and support is  cherished. And the love flows both ways, as refugee families can take a moment to relax and smile. Knowing the road ahead is still fraught with hardship and peril, it’s good to know that at the very least, these refugee families will no longer suffer from the inescapable cold.

The Commissioner for Refugees of the Serbian Government visited the Refugee Aid Points on March 9th, and thanked Tzu Chi Foundation for the distribution of winter clothing. He also asked for assistance supplying food and other essentials. By March 12th, Tzu Chi volunteers were providing 890 vegetarian meals per day, cooking the Jing Si Rice they serve themselves. They also handed out 300 packets of diapers and 100 cans of formula to parents with young children.

Tzu Chi volunteers are still in Serbia on their mission of love, doing what they can to help. Please show Syrian refugees you care with a donation, and send prayers that their ordeal may finally end in a better life.

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