Serbia – January 31 2019

Decision to learn Farsi helps refugees from Afghanistan and Iran

A chance opportunity to learn Farsi becomes a major asset for a member of the SOS Children’s Villages emergency response team in Serbia

It is a busy day at the Obrenovac refugee center and Miroslav Mešanović is helping several young men during an English language lesson at the SOS Children’s Villages youth corner. A short time later, he shifts to another role – working as an interpreter.

Mr. Mešanović has a rare qualification that has turned out to be a major asset for SOS Children’s Villages Serbia and its work with refugees at Obrenovac: he is a Serbian fluent in Farsi, a common language amongst the estimated 1,000 male refugees who live at the refugee center in northern Serbia.

Though he studied pharmacy at the University of Belgrade, Mr. Mešanović jumped at the opportunity in 2005 to begin learning Farsi in a free program offered through the Iranian cultural attaché in Belgrade, and 11 years later visited Iran for a language and literature course. He began working for SOS Children’s Villages in July 2017.

“Knowing Farsi was just exotic until the first refugees started arriving [in 2015]. Then it became a useful language,” Mr. Mešanović explains outside the SOS Children’s Villages youth center and Information Communication Technology (ICT) corner, where hundreds of young refugees gather daily to learn languages, join technology workshops and to use computers.

More than two-thirds of the nearly 4,000 refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers in Serbia are from Afghanistan and Iran, where Farsi is a main language.

SOS Children’s Villages is the only organization providing programs that combine computer technology with educational and skills-development activities for young residents of Obrenovac.

A constantly changing environment
Photos of Miroslav Mešanović by Katerina Ilievska.


Officially, Obrenovac only houses adult men. But there are believed to be many teenagers living there who claim to be 18 or older so they can stay with friends rather than move to government-run refugee centers for families and unaccompanied children.

The work is challenging. “They are always running, trying to get across the border,” says Bojana Drljić, a social worker for the SOS Children’s Villages Serbia refugee program for more than two years. “It is difficult for them to be involved in educational activities because their mind is always somewhere else. It is hard for them to stay motivated and that is one of the biggest challenges.”

Mr. Mešanović says the constantly changing environment is difficult when it comes to helping the youngest residents of the refugee reception center. Nonetheless, he says the classes, workshops and the ICT corner offered by SOS Children’s Villages are vital to young people who have few other learning possibilities. “We are not just making their day-to-day life better," he says. “The lessons and opportunity to learn new skills might help them someday in finding jobs.”

SOS Children’s Villages Serbia operates ICT corners at Obrenovac and three other refugee centers in the north of the country - Adaševci, Kikinda and Principovac. Photo by Katerina Ilievska
Facts and figures

124,115 - Total number of refugee and migrant children, young people and parents supported by SOS Children’s Villages Serbia from August 2015 to October 2018
723 - The number of SOS Children’s Villages skills development, prevention and educational workshops held for refugee and migrant children and adults in the first half of 2018
3,700 - Estimated number of refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers in Serbia at the end of 2018
400 - Estimated number of unaccompanied children in Serbia

Learn more about our support for refugee children and families in Europe.

The ICT Corners in Serbia are provided with the support of Deutsche Post DHL Group.