3 June 2016
Refugee Crisis: SOS Children’s Villages moves to expand care as transit centers take on more permanent role
TABANOVCE, FYR Macedonia, June 3, 2016 – SOS Children’s Villages Macedonia is expanding its child friendly space (CFS) to help refugees living at the Tabanovce transit center, where hundreds of people have taken shelter since national borders were closed to new migrants earlier this year.
The shift from the temporary care of transients to addressing the longer-term needs of children and families comes at a time when there is a declining number of refugees arriving at transit facilities, but a growing need to provide longer-term services at camps along the Balkan route from Greece to Central Europe.
Efforts by the European Union to restrict migration and decisions by Croatia, FYR Macedonia, Slovenia and Serbia to close their borders to new refugees have all but halted the refugee movements. Frontex, the EU border agency, reports that the number of people waiting to enter Macedonia from Greece fell 25 percent, to 3,830, from March to April.
At Tabanovce, the numbers have fallen from a daily peak of more than 11,500 on 9 November 2015 to around 100 a week. Still, sleeping quarters, dining facilities and activity centres are all being expanded or improved to accommodate longer-term residents.
“There is a structural change because we are moving from being a transit center to one with more permanent shelter”, Goran Stоjanovski, regional director of the governmental Macedonian Crisis Management Center, said one recent day. Classrooms and recreational facilities were needed for the estimated 450 people at Tabanovce, one-third of them under 18, he added.
In response, SOS Children’s Villages began converting the first floor of the CFS, previously used as temporary shelter for mothers and young children, into classrooms. In addition, SOS and its partner UNICEF Macedonia have developed a coordinated plan of activities for children and teens at the camp, some 100 meters from the Serbian border.
Mite Cilkovski, the SOS Macedonia field coordinator for Tabanovce and the southern refugee center at Gevgelija, says there are plans to use the space for music and theatre lessons, computer classes as well as language instruction.
“Children need structure,” Zoran Kolekjevski, a former high school teacher who now works for SOS Children's Villages Macedonia, said after finishing a Macedonian language lesson with an 11-year-old girl from Tehran. “They need a normal life and a chance to mingle with people.”
Other camps also are shifting from a transient footing to provide fixed services that have dual advantages. Officials say even through refugee numbers are declining, there is still a need to help families and that the staff and resources are on hand if borders open or more refugees are allowed to travel.
At the Diavata refugee center near Thessaloniki, SOS Children’s Villages Greece is working with other organizations to convert abandoned buildings at a former military base into an infant care center and a classroom.
On one recent day, SOS co-workers and volunteers were holding languages courses under a canopy of trees at the refugee center near Thessaloniki. Some 2,000 people – about one-third children – live in limbo at Diavata as they await asylum or a passage to the north. Co-workers say classes and activities are essential to help children stay active and learn while also creating a sense of normalcy for families.
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