By Nichola Jones, IFRC
The closure of the Western Balkan route in February and the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal in March, has seen the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) shift its response to meet the changing needs of migrants.
While many migrants might potentially return to Turkey the arrivals into Greece continue although for the time being have plummeted, with a daily average of 47 people per day.
At the height of the crisis, people in transit would spend very little time in Greece and the Balkans, moving quickly to the next milestone of their difficult journey - on average spending fewer than 48 hours in any one country.
But that has changed substantially. With more than 50,000 people stranded in Greece and hundreds more stuck in transit countries along the route, the response is now focused on longer term support in reception centres.
IFRC operations manager for migration in Europe, Lucia Lasso, said: “Equipping volunteers across the route with specialist skills such as psychosocial support provision and identifying and supporting victims of violence or exploitation are areas that we have been scaling up since the context changed.
“Providing first aid, reconnecting people with lost loved ones and distributing emergency relief remain central elements of our work but we are adapting to meet the changing needs and dynamics along the route.”
In Croatia, the country’s main transit centre Slavonski Brod, closed its doors last month which saw the Croatian Red Cross shift its response to supporting migrants in other reception facilities.
In Serbia, the Red Cross continues to provide emergency supplies including food and other support through its local branches and in the country’s capital Belgrade. Its teams are also providing support for migrants stranded at two crossing points on Serbia’s northwest border with Hungary.
In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, hundreds of migrants remain stranded in Gevgelija camp in the south and Tabanovce in the north. Red Cross teams remain onsite providing a raft of services including first aid, medical care and emergency supplies such as food, water and hygiene items daily. A new logistics hub has also been set up to support long term operations.
In Greece, the IFRC has more than doubled its emergency appeal to 28.7 million Swiss francs as part of longer term plans to provide support to 55,000 people nationwide and scale-up services in camps nationwide. A significant donation of more than 16 million Swiss francs from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) has been pledged towards this appeal.
The IFRC is also running emergency appeals for Croatia, Hungary, Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Italy. Almost 34,000 people have arrived in Italy across the perilous Mediterranean Sea route from North Africa this year. Italian Red Cross teams are working across ports and reception centres nationwide, which is currently being ramped up in anticipation of greater numbers of arrivals this summer.
Hungary has seen an increase in the number of arrivals since the implementation of the EU-Turkey with an average of 174 people arriving per day. The Hungarian Red Cross is now providing support in two of the main reception centres in the country.
The IFRC is also working with the Albanian Red Cross as it prepares for a possible surge in arrivals as people attempt to find alternative routes from Greece. Pre-positioning emergency supplies for new comers are part of the plans.
The Bulgarian Red Cross is also responding to the migration crisis as people attempt to find other routes onwards to northern and western Europe.
“Planning for changes in the migratory trail is key – while conflict, persecution and violence continue, people will not stop attempting to flee and find safety,” said Lasso.
Red Cross National Societies in destination countries in Scandinavia, the UK, Germany, Austria and France continue to provide support for migrants with and without refugee status. Social inclusion, campaigning for more accessible and broader family reunion systems in Europe and combatting destitution are among the focuses of this support.