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Long-Term Recovery Work with Syrian Refugees Rebuilds Lives

Reflections on our continuing work to assist those displaced and seeking refuge from the Syrian civil war.

By Michael Kourabas on September 30, 2019

As I travel this week with several UUSC staff to visit our partners in Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, and Serbia, I wanted to share with our members a quick report back. We’ll be assessing our response to the severe devastation caused by the Syrian civil war that has forced thousands of families to risk their lives seeking refuge in European countries that have pushed back against receiving them.

The UUSC-UUA Syrian Refugee Crisis Fund raised nearly three-quarters of a million dollars to assist fleeing migrant families. With these resources, UUSC’s partners in the region provided emergency aid with dignity—ensuring access to legal help and resettlement support, alongside advocating for necessary changes in policy and public perception.

After four years of relief assistance and advocacy, together we’ve created connections and built systems of support so that frontline organizations across the region are better positioned to advance human rights for displaced families in the future. And together, we’ve made a lasting impact on people’s lives.

As with all our work, listening to affected communities is essential to just and equitable crisis recovery. As the needs along the migration route changed, UUSC provided the flexibility for our partners to address the most pressing needs. In Eastern Europe, as countries that were initially thought of as “transit countries” increasingly became “countries of permanent stay,” our partners were able to shift their focus from providing aid to families in transit, to providing supports for migrants to be integrated into their communities.

One of UUSC’s partners in the region working on protection and integration, NGO Atina provides services particularly to survivors of gender-based violence and human trafficking that migrant women have faced.

As I reflect on the value of our long-term relief work, UUSC stands out among organizations for its sustained commitment years after other aid agencies have left. Survivors of disaster and trauma deserve a dignified response, and that means cultivating deep and long-lasting partnerships that become self-sustaining after our assistance ends. Here are a few successes from our work I’m happy to share:

  • Fueled by UUSC’s 2017 partner convening, virtually all our Syrian Refugee Response partners in Eastern Europe have established meaningful connections and collaborations with each other. For instance, Center for Peace Studies (CPS) (in Croatia), Legis (in Macedonia), and Asylum Protection Center (APC) (in Serbia) have formed a network aiming to coordinate advocacy, awareness raising, and direct services across the Balkans migration route.
  • In Serbia, a UUSC grant helped APC purchase two camper vehicles so that its mobile teams of aid workers (including a lawyer, a psychologist, a social worker/teacher, and an interpreter) could travel to different asylum centers and reception centers and provide aid directly to people on the move. Last year alone, APCestimates that it reached nearly 7,500 migrants using its mobile response teams, in part because they were able to travel more than 80,000 kilometers. In just one year, these teams conducted nearly 1,000 visits to local sites across Serbia.
  • In Croatia,CPS and Are You Syrious continued their tireless support of the family of Madina, the six-year old Afghan girl who died on the train tracks on the Serbia-Croatia border as the result of an illegal pushback conducted by the Croatian border police. During 2018, they were in continuous contact with Madina’s family, supporting them and their lawyer in filing a criminal complaint against unknown perpetrators in the police. Together with the family’s lawyer, they have accompanied Madina’s family to court hearings and supported the preparation and submission of their application to the European Court for Human Rights.
  • In Macedonia, after Legis discovered that people were no longer being let into transit border centers, they successfully advocated for the reopening of the centers for new arrivals, allowing registration and documentation of people in transit.
  • In Hungary, UUSC has supported the Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s family reunification program for the last three years. In a hostile political climate, HHC provides legal counseling and representation to recognized refugees seeking to reunite with their families in Hungary. This year they assisted the reunification of 45 people.

We are incredibly grateful to our members for their steadfast assistance and trust that fuels UUSC’s powerful flexibility—responding to the immediate needs of crises and maintaining strong partnerships for the long haul.

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About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!

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