With support, young migrants more easily adapt in a crisis

If there is support, refugee and migrant youth who are currently residing in Serbia show great motivation for personal progress, and their resilience and ability to adapt to new life circumstances is extraordinary, as is their readiness to face the situation and take the initiative. This was most visible in a project through which Atina supported more than 350 refugee and migrant youth on their path toward full independence - “Strengthening Social Protection for Migrant and Refugee Children and Youth in Vulnerable Situation in Serbia, implemented with the support of the Dohle Foundation and Schüler Helfen Leben.

Atina has assisted refugee and migrant youth by providing opportunities to attend selected vocational courses, helping in communication with potential employers and landlords, strengthening their personal capacities, services of case management and psychosocial support, provision of basic needs (food, hygiene, clothing and medical services), as well as by covering utilities for alternative accommodation at a time of economic uncertainty.

Of the 8 young migrants and refugees who completed the culinary course, 3 have been employed at the place where they completed their practice, while two young women supplied with necessary materials started working in a hairdressing salon. In this way, the project additionally contributed to connecting refugee and migrant youth with the local community and improved their integration.

The support provided by the Schüler Helfen Leben program was of great importance for all the youth involved, as it gave them the opportunity to learn new skills, gain practice, and have a much better chance of finding employment. Young people participated in all the activities, decision-making, exchange of ideas and creation of plans for their future development.

In this way, one of the biggest goals was successfully realized - prevention of regression, i.e. sustainability and support of achieved integration, given that many young people would be forced to return to collective accommodation due to job loss and lower competitiveness in the labor market compared to domicile population.

Atina's work is based on an individual approach to each beneficiary, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Refugee and migrant youth were supported in overcoming existing traumas exacerbated by the epidemiological and poor economic situation.

A short survey was conducted with them to assess the level of satisfaction with project activities. Of the 148 refugee and migrant youth who participated in the survey, 110 (74%) rated the activities as extremely useful and reported a significant improvement in knowledge when it came to the topics covered.

High influx of refugees during the pandemic

Despite the pandemic, the influx of refugees into Serbia is high, as is their fluctuation, and smuggling channels are still being used to continue the journey. The number of refugees on the territory of Serbia has increased in the past three months and exceeds 8.000, both when it comes to those in accommodation facilities and refugees outside the centers, especially on the northern border and in Belgrade. The structure of refugees, according to the latest statistics, is: Afghanistan 66%, Syria 17%, Pakistan 4% and 13% other countries.

At the Reintegration Center, Atina’s team continued to provide a safe space, psychological support, individual conversations with case managers, as well as peer group meetings, in line with WHO recommendations, as well as preventive measures in place in the country. Thus, the migrant peer support group has grown into a formal advocacy group ready to take over a part of the activities. This was an additional incentive for other women and girls to think about their future and self-organization.

Increased uncertainty and discrimination

On the other hand, the response of the state during the pandemic was focused primarily on the health sector, while the social sector was neglected. An inadequate response to the growing economic crisis has resulted in increased discrimination, an antimigrant atmosphere and gender-based violence, which has also been ignored by the relevant institutions.

The main efforts of the civil sector in the period after the state of emergency was lifted were aimed at pointing out the rights of migrants and refugees that were completely neglected and subordinated to other interests.

Support is necessary

The current situation of the pandemic and the changes in society that it has brought for refugees and migrants represent just another crisis situation in their lives. With adequate support gained through this project, these young persons were able to maintain motivation and successfully continue their path toward full independence. The risk of long-term survival in a crisis situation lies in development of a traumatic syndrome in periods when stabilization is expected (arrival in the destination country, transition to safe accommodation, start of an independent life), which is why it is necessary to advocate and maintain long-term support programs that can provide monitoring in later recovery stages and stabilization. Atina's team is very pleased to have had the opportunity, with the support of the SHL, to really influence the improvement of the living conditions of refugee and migrant youth and give them better prospects.

The plan is to continue to empower and provide psychosocial support to women and youth refugees and migrants, particularly those at risk of gender-based violence. Atina’s team will also continue regular visits to asylum and reception centers, as well as individual and group work with beneficiaries residing there, especially those who are in need of additional support and motivation to leave collective accommodation and start independent life and social integration.

Economic empowerment, as a long-term and continuous process, will be further developed, with a special focus on networking with the private sector to provide easier employment opportunities and greater opportunities for economic independence for all young people.