Challenges Facing Refugees in SerbiaIn 2016, 65.6 million people were forced to leave their homes, and these people are known as refugees. Refugees are usually forced to leave their countries for one of three reasons: victimization, violence or war. Refugees everywhere face immense hardships, and the challenges facing refugees in Serbia are widespread.

Serbia is mainly viewed as a stop along the way for refugees hoping to reach countries in central Europe. In 2015 and the first part of 2016, over 920,000 refugees traveled to Serbia. According to the European Commission, the shutting down of the Western Balkans migration route left 4,146 refugees stranded in Serbia.

Kimmie Whicher, a student at George Mason University, traveled to Serbia on scholarship from Boren. There, she worked with a small non-governmental organization (NGO) to provide food and clothes for hundreds of refugees in a camp in Belgrade, Serbia. In the nine months that Whicher was there, her NGO grew from feeding about 300 to upwards of 800 men.

Approximately 2.6 million refugees live in camps; many of these refugees are living in extremely harsh conditions. In Whicher’s experience, here are some of the challenges facing refugees in Serbia.

1. Poor Living Conditions

One of the challenges facing refugees in Serbia is poor living conditions. According to Caritas, eight out of 10 refugees in Serbia stay in government shelters, the rest must sleep outside in public parks. Among the hardships that come with living outside is the extremely cold weather. Whicher recalled the winter weather in Serbia: “The cold is absolutely ruthless. Our organization that cooked for these men would take hot kettles of boiling water and when we tried to clean up after cooking we would pour it on the table and it would freeze the second it would hit the table.”

Winter temperatures in Serbia are often below freezing. Many refugees are left no choice but to sleep in public parks where they risk getting frostbite, among other conditions due to prolonged exposure to the cold weather. According to The Independent, many children don’t even have gloves or shoes to keep them protected from the snow.

2. No Protection by the Government

A common hardship for many refugees is the lack of safety and protection provided by the government. According to Whicher, “It was a very miserable place. A harsh reality for many of these boys was that this is the border of Europe, so when you’re living here and you’re trying to get through, if you go to a camp you’re probably going to get deported or the police are going to break your phone or take your clothes.”

3. Hunger

Another one of the challenges facing refugees in Serbia is hunger. Refugees have to scrape by on whatever they can get to eat in a day. Small NGOs such as Whicher’s can provide some meals for the refugees, but the majority of those escaping their home countries are still underfed. According to Whicher, “One hot meal a day was our motto.” In this way, organizations can begin to help refugees by providing food and clothes, but they do not have the means necessary to help every refugee.

4. Worsening Physical and Mental Conditions

Due to these hardships, refugees struggle with new or worsening sickness. Due to the freezing temperatures in the winter, refugees in Serbia suffer from frostbite. According to The Independent, in order to escape the freezing temperatures, refugees light fires in their makeshift shelters, which further leads to respiratory problems from the smoke. However, physical sickness is not the only sickness refugees endure. Whicher recalled her experience: “You would literally watch them lose their minds… We saw this one man deteriorate to the point where if he were to go back to school, he would have to be in a special education classroom.”

Despite the harsh reality for many refugees in Serbia, organizations are making great strides to improve refugee conditions. Just by supplying food and clothes to these refugees, these organizations such as the one for which Whicher volunteered, are saving the lives of many.

– Olivia Booth
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rate in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Despite a slight drop in the national poverty rate over the last decade, Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to be a fragile and struggling European economy. According to the World Bank, the poverty rate in Bosnia and Herzegovina stood at 17.9 percent in 2011, a 0.3 percent decrease from 2007.

Annual GDP growth has fluctuated in Bosnia and Herzegovina since the global financial crisis of 2008. Additionally, at 28 percent in 2016, the country has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe according to the CIA’s World Factbook.

Women and children are most vulnerable to an increasing poverty rate in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Families that are larger (with three children or more) are also more disenfranchised than smaller families. According to UNICEF, an estimated 170,000 children in Bosnia and Herzegovina are poor.

A 2015 study conducted by UNICEF found that the majority of children (75 percent) ages five to 15 are deprived of one or more basic life necessities, such as nutrition, educational resources and housing.

Children in rural areas are even more likely to be deprived. An urban/rural divide was evident in the UNICEF study as well. Children in the countryside are more likely to be deprived in more categories and have less access to medical facilities, adequate housing and primary schools.

According to the Brookings Institution, sustainable poverty reduction, especially for deprived children, will require increased labor market participation by women. According to the World Bank, 32 percent of women are employed in the top 60 percent of wealthy families in the country.

Increasing rates of preschool attendance and creating access to early childhood education, particularly in rural areas, is also vital to ending poverty cycles faced by children in the country.

In light of its recent data, UNICEF supported the Bosnian government’s efforts to “provide conditions for children to reach their full potential and address the causes of discrimination.” The “Country Program” took place between 2010 and 2014.

Significant efforts such as this one have been made in the attempt to reduce poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina, specifically by supporting educational authorities and schools in the bid to guarantee access to a quality education and reduce the poverty rate in Bosnia and Herzegovina for children.

Melanie Snyder

Photo: Flickr


As international aid and Macedonia’s own efforts to end food insecurity are at an all-time high, hunger in Macedonia has decreased drastically.

Macedonia is a relatively small country north of Greece with a population of just over two million people. Since gaining its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Macedonia has striven to improve its economic and democratic stability.

In accordance with the last set of Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations, only between 1.3 percent and 2.1 percent of children under the age of five are malnourished. A new set of goals strives to eradicate hunger completely by 2030.

Although this percentage seems small, Macedonia’s history and present state of political unrest have made it difficult to resolve issues of hunger entirely. According to a study completed this year, one-third of the country’s population remains in poverty. This rate is even higher for families with children, an issue explainable by the country’s unemployment rate, which is the highest in Europe. To tackle the looming issue of unemployment and its effect on hunger in Macedonia, the Ministry of Education and Science has worked to improve children’s access to and the quality of education.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has taken a firm stand behind this cause and worked during the past decade to institute programs that enrich student literacy and numerical competency, help disabled students and provide more opportunities for minority individuals. Furthermore, the Macedonian government is pushing its students to study abroad and also welcoming individuals from other countries to attend its universities.

Statistics at the end of 2016 indicate a strong response to this push for better education to eliminate unemployment and poverty in Macedonia. The country’s unemployment rate was reported to be 23.1 percent, compared to its high, in 2005, of 37.27 percent.

Programs put in place have already increased work readiness and lowered unemployment, which will cut off the cycle that has continued sustaining levels of hunger in Macedonia.

Emily Trosclair

Photo: Flickr


Over the past 30 years, the Balkans have experienced levels of change and turmoil. The lack of stability in the region has resulted in high levels of poverty in the Balkans.

The Balkan Peninsula, or the Balkans, is a region in Eastern Europe with coastlines on the Mediterranean Sea, Adriatic Sea, Aegean Sea, and the Black Sea. The countries that make up the Balkans are Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania and Greece.

Not all of the countries in the peninsula are experiencing dramatic poverty problems. For instance, less than 10 percent of the population of Montenegro is in poverty. Overall, however, poverty in the Balkans expands to about one-fourth of the region’s population.

Albania has one of the lowest standards of living and the lowest per capita income in all of Europe. Twenty-five percent of its population lives on less than $2 per day.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, more than 15 percent of the population live in poverty. Croatia just broke through a recession that lasted until 2015. During the recession, the number of children in poverty rose by 50 percent. About one-fifth of Croatia’s population is considered poor.

Greece is in the middle of a longstanding economic crisis, on par with the Great Depression. During this time, jobs have dissipated and wages have decreased. Today, almost a quarter of Greece’s population is considered to be in conditions of severe deprivation.

Other regions experience their own financial difficulties. Kosovo was the poorest region of the former Yugoslavia, and declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. Years of political instability have left 30 percent of Kosovans in poverty. In addition, one-third of the population of Macedonia lives at or below the poverty line. The country faces high unemployment rates. In Serbia, one-fourth of the population is poor, and some of its southern regions lack basic infrastructures and public services.

Despite all of the economic issues in the Balkans, there are certainly signs of optimism, specifically the crime rate. Usually, high levels of poverty coincide with an increase in crime. However, this is not the case in the Balkans, which are regarded as some of the safest countries in all of Europe. Most of the countries are simply lacking the resources necessary to provide for their people. Assistance on an international level is imperative to lift these states out of poverty.

Dustin Jayroe

Photo: Flickr