It has been more than three years since the first wave of Syrian migrants fleeing the civil war travelled across Europe searching for safety. After many of the states on the route closed their borders in 2016, numbers of migrants transiting through the Balkans dropped; yet, significant numbers of refugees have been stranded in Balkan countries, and thousands continued to use the Balkan route to seek refuge. While many human rights funders focused their response to the crisis on neighboring countries, UUSC doubled down on our investment in the Balkans where our research identified a clear opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives.
This week, I will be traveling with fellow UUSC staff to Hungary, Serbia, and Croatia to hear from our partners about the current situation facing refugees and to share results of the work we supported with a committed group of UUSC members.
It continues to be a challenging time for the region. Serbia is hosting thousands of refugees, many of whom try to enter Croatia or Hungary and are pushed back, often with violence. In Hungary, the recent victory of the Fidesz party was achieved on the back of a xenophobic and anti-civil society campaign. Newly re-elected Prime Minister Viktor Orban has promised to pass a law that would require any non-governmental organization (NGO) assisting migrants to obtain a government-issued license, creating a pretense for shutting them down. In Croatia, authorities have lodged criminal charges against human rights defenders for merely helping migrants contact the police to file asylum claims.
In the face of discriminatory policies and ongoing human rights violations in countries of asylum, refugees continue to seek sanctuary and build their lives as members of our shared community. Human rights organizations, including UUSC’s partners, continue their day-to-day work, winning battles on the way. They call attention to illegal border pushbacks, advocate for refugee victims of gender-based violence, and re-unify refugee families.
During our trip, we will be meeting with six organizations across the Balkans trail, and some of the individuals they have served. We hope to bring UUSC and its members closer to their work; and glean broader lessons for refugee protection and the human rights movement here in the United States. Watch this space for future dispatches.