Home far-away from home

Women refugees and migrants in Serbia have got a place of their own and a support team to help them build a post-conflict life free from violence and poverty.

“This reminds me of home. We used to have our own hall for women only where we would gather every other day, organize different celebrations and courses and exercise.“ So says Sayarah from Afghanistan at the opening of the Women’s Center in ADRA Community center in Belgrade on November 1 with support of UN Women Serbia.

There is no place like home but this 120 square meter big space away from the hustle and bustle of the city offers women and girls refugees and migrants to take their minds off a little bit. They can make it by learning how to sew and knit, make decoupage and other decorations or just through some sports activities or getting psycho-social support. The biggest interest among them was for vocation trainings.

This does not come as a surprise given that over 1,000 women refugees and migrants currently residing in Belgrade have few economic opportunities to build their livelihoods, with their earning options often limited to low-paid and low-skilled informal work in addition to having to carry the burden of unpaid family labour.

On their long journeys with uncertain futures, women refugees and migrants are especially vulnerable to human trafficking, exploitation, discrimination and abuse. Single women travelling alone or with children, pregnant and nursing women, adolescent girls, and elderly women are among those who are particularly at risk and require a coordinated and effective protection response. Cultural differences, religious and community traditions and language are additional barriers for women refugees who seek to claim their rights and obtain needed assistance.

Igor Mitrovic, director of ADRA, stressed at the opening that refugee and migrant women are not victims but persons who have the right to realize their needs like everyone else. “The Women's Center is here to create the conditions for realizing these rights, or at least part of it, and make your time more useful and beautiful," Mitrovic said addressing some 100 women refugees and migrants who gathered at the Center’s opening.

Aurelija Djan, dealing with refugees with UN Women in Serbia, expressed concern about the lack of adequate services to the needs of women and girls refugee and migrants which has a profound impact on their sense of safety, dignity and health. “Not only are women fleeing from war but from male violence as well. Therefore, their situation puts them in a state of higher vulnerability to male violence. This is why the Women’s Centre is highly needed and we hope it will always be fully packed as at the opening day and will bring smiles back to their faces as well as some hope,” said Djan.

Ever since the beginning of the migrant crisis in 2015, UN Women in Serbia has been supporting national institutions and women's NGOs to ensure that women’s specific needs are met and that gender is integrated into Serbia’s planning and response to refugees and migrants.

In October 2016, UN Women and Oxfam opened Serbia’s first Women’s Corner in the Refugee Aid Miksaliste transit centre. Working with a mobile team from the NGO Atina, UN Women provided prompt 24/7 support and self-help workshops to women refugees and migrants in Belgrade, Sid, Subotica, Presevo and in Bogovadja. In addition to this, with support of UN Women and Oxfam, the Belgrade Center for Human Rights in 2016 wrote an Asylum Act Gender Analysis that included a list of amendments to Serbia’s draft Asylum Law.

Written by
Bojana Barlovac
Communications Officer
UN Women
Bojana Barlovac
UN entities involved in this initiative
UN Women
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women