• Loading

Closing borders and cold weather compound refugees’ miseries

22 October 2015 - With thousands of people once again stuck at the Serbia-Croatian border overnight in harsh weather conditions, Christian Aid partner Philanthropy is scaling up its response to meet the growing humanitarian needs. 

Since Hungary shut its borders with Serbia last month and with Croatia last weekend, increasing numbers of refugees have been forced to change their route to travel through Serbia and Croatia.
With up to 10,000 people a day entering Serbia, the authorities in neighbouring Croatia have been trying to control the number of people crossing between the two countries by sporadically shutting the border over the last five days. 

With only small groups of around 150 people allowed to enter Croatia at a time, there are growing queues of refugees waiting in abysmal conditions.

As their numbers rise, Philanthropy has stepped up its response over the last month to reach three times as many people as before with food, blankets, warm clothes and raincoats, as well as showers, toilets and hygiene items.

They have also begun helping to rehabilitate old buildings to create temporary accommodation for the refugees. 

Marija Vranesevic, programme manager for Philanthropy, both based in Serbia, explained: “Numbers have doubled in the last week from 5,000 to up to 10,000 people per day crossing the border to Serbia from Macedonia. Additionally, nearly 1,000 people a day are entering Serbia from Bulgaria.

“We are seeing people arrive in the thinnest of basic clothing, some with shoes, some barefoot. They arrive exhausted, hungry, some have been beaten or robbed along the way and almost all are traumatised. Many I have met have travelled for months and have no savings left.

“When they arrive at the border to cross into Croatia they are forced to camp in muddy fields. Wet and freezing they wait with thousands of others, for hours or even all night for the border to open.

“Stalling the flow of refugees and causing a bottleneck situation is very concerning as Serbia has limited capacity to cope. It is a deeply distressing time for these people who have been through so much.  But organisations such as UNHCR, MSF and Philanthropy are there, to meet the needs of these people."

Ms Vranesevic added: “The refugees have fled desperate circumstances in the Middle East and now face a winter of uncertainty.  The humanitarian needs of such a large number of refugees are huge and as winter approaches they will increase.

“As Philanthropy has been working on the ground for months, we know the situation well and have been able to scale up our response efficiently to reach many more people with much needed items such as blankets and warm clothes. Knowing we can continue to scale up is particularly important, especially through the difficult winter months ahead of us.”

Christian Aid appeals to all EU Member States to deal with the rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis as a matter of urgency.

More than 643,000 people arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean Sea this year. UNHCR estimate that 9,000 people arrived in Greece yesterday alone and with the recent government offensives within Syrian, the outflux of refugees persists.

Frances Guy, Head of Middle East Region at Christian Aid noted: “With intensifying conflict in Syria, this humanitarian tragedy across the Middle East and Europe is set to continue.

“It is now time to prioritise peace.  The UK government and other global leaders have a shared responsibility to work harder to find political solutions to the conflict in Syria.   Until this happens, we will continue to see the desperation of those forced into impossible choices, risking their lives and that of their families to reach safety.”

Christian Aid continues to urge the UK and other EU member states to undertake without further delay proportionate resettlement across Europe.

Christian Aid is working with our ACT Alliance partners in supporting humanitarian efforts taking place in Europe, as well as with on the ground with partners in the Middle East. Christian Aid has sent £100,000 to support ACT’s work in Europe, which includes the work of Philanthropy in Serbia and the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) in Greece.

The agency will continue to support Philanthropy and IOCC scale up their work as the humanitarian needs increase.

To find out more or to donate please visit the website.
If you would like further information please contact Johanna Rogers on jrogers@christian-aid.org or 020 7523 2460 & 24 hour press duty phone – 07850 242950  

Notes to editors:

1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 40 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.

2. Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change explains how we set about this task.

3. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development. Further details at http://actalliance.org

4. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire

5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk


Press office

Want to speak to Christian Aid's press office? Here’s who to contact.

Contact details


Clarifications, corrections and statements from Christian Aid.

Latest response

Christian Aid blog

Latest news and views from staff and partners around the world.

Latest blog

Press releases