Syrian refugee surge in Serbia seeking asylum, many coming to Greece first

One thousand miles separate Syria and Serbia, but the desperation to flee their war-torn country is driving thousands of refugees from Syria, as well as some from Afghanistan and other countries to make the long and dangerous journey.

Their trek is a combination of boats, buses, trains, and walking.

Many land in Greece first. From there, they head north on foot, walking hundreds of miles through the Balkans to the European Union. In the past six months, more than 37,000 refugees have endured rough terrain, temperatures hovering near 100 degrees, a lack of food and water, and violent attacks from predatory gangs along the way to reach Serbia.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Serbia is receiving by far the largest percentage of refugees seeking international protection in southeastern Europe. The refugees are using the route through Serbia to reach their desired final destination of Western Europe. Now Serbian authorities face an emerging crisis as they struggle to care for the growing masses of exhausted, hungry, and injured refugees making the arduous journey to hoped-for asylum.

ACT member, International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), from its office in Belgrade, is on the ground responding to the urgent needs of the Syrian refugees in southern Serbia with food assistance and logistical support. Working in cooperation with the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Red Cross of Serbia, IOCC is providing support for more than 3,500 meals per day for refugees and local people in need from the towns of Bujanovac and Preševo.

In Greece, IOCC is also extending relief to the refugees as they land on the island of Chios, providing access to improved shower and sanitation facilities and distributing hygiene kits so that they can take care of their personal hygiene in privacy and with dignity.