Balkans and Greece: Stranded refugees face freezing temperatures

Girls playing in the snow outside a refugee camp in Adasevci, Serbia

Stranded refugees in the Balkans are facing freezing temperatures and are in urgent need of assistance. “The lives of thousands of men, women and children are at risk,” says Sumka Bucan, CARE’s Regional Balkan Director.

We are talking about families who already lost everything. They don’t have any resources to protect themselves from temperatures dropping as low as minus 15 degrees, heavy winds and snow fall.

“Most people live in makeshift communal facilities, mostly empty factories or hotels that do not provide enough heating and safety.”

People sleeping outside under blankets
Refugees sleeping rough in freezing temperatures in Belgrade

In Belgrade, over a thousand refugees, including children, are living in the open in temperatures as low as minus-10 degrees. During the night families are sleeping on the floor in old warehouses or in parking spots.

Clothes drying on a tree in freezing temperatures
Clothes hung on a tree to dry near Belgrade train station

“These are inhumane conditions, especially for unregistered, ‘invisible’ refugees and migrants. There is no water, only limited access to sanitation facilities and health services,” explains Bucan.

These people fled war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, they came to save their children’s lives and to seek protection. It is unbearable that they are now at risk of freezing to death on the European continent.

People entering a compound in snowy Belgrade
People entering a temporary shelter in Belgrade where CARE partner Novi Sad Humanitarian Centre (NSHC) provides assistance to refugees
People outside a temporary shelter in snowy Belgrade
People queuing for assistance

In Sjenica in the south of Serbia more than 450 refugees are living in a refugee camp with capacity for 250 persons only. CARE and our partner organisation IMPULS are supporting refugees with food packages, clothes, mattresses, hygiene items, a washing machine.

People gathering in a room in a refugee camp
People gathering for assistance at the camp in Sjenica
A sleeping area at a temporary refugee camp
A shared sleeping area at the temporary refugee camp in Sjenica

In Adasevci, at the biggest refugee camp in the country, CARE and partners are supporting more than 1,100 refugees with sanitation facilities and warm meals.

Snow outside Adasevci refugee camp
Snowy conditions outside the refugee camp in Adasevci
Staff distributing food at the Adasevci refugee camp
Distributing food at the refugee camp
Bunks in a tent at a refugee camp
Bunks in a tent at Adasevci refugee camp

Ten months since borders closed across the Balkans, more than 60,000 people are also still living in limbo in Greece. Efforts have been made recently to improve conditions in the camps on the mainland. Aleksandra Godziejewska, CARE Country Representative in Greece, says:

“Conditions are slowly improving, but this is too late to ensure warm living conditions for refugees during this winter. Many refugees still live in unheated tents, warehouses or are squatting in unprepared buildings in the urban environment.”

Staff registering a woman to receive emergency cash assistance
A CARE staff member registering a mother to receive emergency cash assistance

CARE is supporting families with cash assistance so they can buy for themselves the things that they most urgently need. Selva, mother of two young girls, told us:

The first thing I will do when I receive the cash is go to the supermarket. I want to buy food and clothes for me and my daughters.

A young girl with her mother
Selva with her two daughters

CARE also provides legal and psychosocial assistance to urban refugees in Greece, particularly women who are able, after months of stress, to talk about their feelings in a safe space and to gain strength from solidarity with others in the same position.

Women in a circle in a group hug
Women having a group hug during a therapy session

CARE’s response

In Serbia and Croatia, CARE and local partners provide 24/7 assistance to new arrivals. To protect people from the severe weather conditions, CARE distributes warm clothes, blankets, hot meals and mattresses. To date, the emergency teams have reached more than 180,000 people.

In Greece, CARE supports refugees with cash assistance and provides legal and psychosocial assistance to urban refugees. With support from the European Commission and other donors, CARE aims to reach 4,000 people up to the end of March.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.