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Local prejudice and media sensationalism
CITIZENS’ ASSOCIATION “ATINA” CONDUCTED A RESEARCH AMONG MIGRANTS, AS WELL AS REPRESENTATIVES OF SOCIAL WELFARE CENTRES, POLICE, ASYLUM CENTRES, RED CROSS, YOUTH OFFICES, LOCAL MEDIA, EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS, AND OTHER RELEVANT ORGANIZATIONS AND BODIES FROM FIVE COMMUNITIES INVOLVED IN THE PROJECT (BOGOVAĐA, BANJA KOVILJAČA, SUBOTICA, SREMSKA MITROVICA, AND ŠID). RESEARCH RESULTS ARE PRESENTED IN A PUBLICATION “MIGRANT POPULATION IN LOCAL COMMUNITIES IN SERBIA”.
The goal of the research was to develop effective models of response and reduce xenophobia and prejudice against migrants and asylum seekers in local communities in Serbia. Project activities were focused on strengthening the capacities of civil society organizations, and professionals whose involvement is directed towards support and protection of migrants. The introduction of the publication states that: “With this publication we wish to remind you that dialogue, cooperation and understanding need to be the only desirable models of communication in all the communities in Serbia”.
A key segment of the publication is the analysis of the ways in which interviewees, i.e. bearers of the system of assistance to migrants and asylum seekers, understand the phenomenon and causes of migration, ways of travel organization, as well as the risks associated with the migrant status.
Although it is not always easy to spot the differences between the reasons for migration, authors of the publication note that interviewees are aware that these migrations are forced, and are also aware of the risks migrants face during their journey. There is a consensus that women and children are more susceptible to all the risks, and that different forms of human trafficking (sexual exploitation, forced labour, commission of criminal offences) are the most common risk.
DISTRUST AND FEAR: Representatives of various systems, who are in the most direct contact with migrants, or have the jurisdiction to work with them, almost invariably emphasized that Serbia is just a transit country, that migrants are persons passing by, which - the publication states - leads to danger that they shall ignore objectively difficult circumstances from which the migrants come, and in which they travel, and will not invest enough future efforts into improving the position of migrants in Serbia.
The research states that, during focus-group interviews, some participants voiced their distrust, and even prejudice, toward migrant population. It was generally reflected in a low valuation of cultural forms from which migrants derive, their education level and lifestyle, perception of their stay in asylum centres in Serbia as an undeserved holiday which they do not appreciate enough, but instead abuse the asylum system ("They sit in those centres and don’t do a thing", "Some of them only think about their rights"). The fear of a large number of migrants is also evident ("You walk through your own town and feel as if you live in Arabia or Afghanistan"), as well as the fear of potential infectious diseases which they can be carriers of, and even violence which they may cause ("They are known as people with very short fuse, they have very little tolerance").
The role of the media was evaluated as mostly negative, both at national and local level. Interviewees could not remember any example of positive media coverage of the situation of migrants, asylum seekers and contemporary issue of migratory movements, but pointed out that the media are generally inclined to sensationalism and tendentious reporting.
During the interviews with migrants researchers mostly heard positive assessments of their treatment and position in Serbia. Aside from generally positive attitude, migrants were not able to appoint a system service or programme that helped them adequately manage, or overcome, problematic experiences and integrate into community.
Undue length of asylum procedure is often cited as the biggest complaint to domestic asylum system. However, even the number of those who persevere to the end of the asylum procedure, and are granted some form of protection, is almost negligible. Insufficient capacity of existing asylum centres is an additional failing of the national asylum system, which forced many asylum seekers to find and pay for private housing in the vicinity of these centres.
Testimonies and research records
“When a migrant comes into a country, the country should first accept him and give him a job. When the migrant receives papers, he can work. When he works, he is helping society - that is development. A migrant can be an engineer, programmer, doctor, and help that country more than his own.” - a migrant from Syria
“Some women can not choose when they become pregnant, as soon as they give birth, a new pregnancy comes. Pregnant women and mothers with children have the hardest time. Mothers sometimes beg smugglers to take them. And they won’t do it because it is difficult for children. Some smugglers won’t take pregnant women, it’s risky, they can not move fast, someone always has to help them. They usually give more money.” - Migrant from Somalia
"As wars are being fought there, a migrant was probably a part of the previous regime, took sides, was a soldier, so now he is running away... Back at the end of the nineties a lot of them came from Africa - Libyans, Ivory Coast, Nigeria... The most dominant groups now are those from Pakistan and Afghanistan.” -representative of County Jail Subotica
"Without someone’s help they would not be able to get very far... Some of them started the journey with no money, and somehow manage to get by along the way. Each new stop they reach is a place to rest and collect the money to pay for the illegal transport across the border.” – representative of Asylum Centre Banja Koviljača
“Smugglers were rough with us. They shoved me in a car that was already crammed with people. The border police also harassed us - they shouted, beat us, me less than others, as I was sick most of the time, so I crouched.” - irregular migrant, Palestinian from Syria, on the experience in Greece
“When Somali women travel alone, someone from Somalia becomes a ‘brother’ to them, and accompanies them. A smuggler picks someone in the group and says ‘this is your sister, you have to take care of her and make sure nothing happens to her’. It is not paid for, it is the protection of your own people. Women can not carry their own bags, someone is always there to help, and they give him some money for that. Women are weaker, constantly at risk of being raped, abused and killed. During the journey, when we go to the bathroom, a guy from Somalia always goes with us. When someone from another country helps us, there is always someone from Somalia behind them. When we sleep, we're always between two men from Somalia.” - migrant from Somalia
“As long as there are migrations, smuggling, there is a potential danger that people will become victims of human trafficking.” - representative of PU Šabac
“The problem is that rumours circulate that they will be employed, and that they spread diseases and infections... There is a wall that is formed of ignorance.” - representative of the Refugee Commissioner “I think that most people here do not like them... They do not even like to see them, and have some kind of resistance to this, and as long as the issue of asylum seekers continues to be a political issue, there will be no progress.” -representative of a Citizens’ Association from Loznica
For NGO Atina, text translated by Marija Pantelić
The original text can be found here: