JRS SEE helping refugees in Croatia

01 October 2015

Zagreb, 01 October 2015 – JRS South East Europe communications officer Marinela Vidic-Ivos reports on the JRS response to new arrivals in the country. After Hungary completed its barbed wire fence along its border with Serbia people travelling through the Balkans began arriving in Croatia. JRS SEE was there to provide assistance in the reception centre near Zagreb from midnight 16-17 September when the first group of forced migrants arrived.

"I received a phone call from the director of the reception centre at about 11.30pm," recalls JRS SEE director Tvrtko Barun SJ. "She asked if I could come as quickly as possible as they were expecting the arrival of hundreds of people from the border. I gathered a team of three volunteers and we went to the centre. It was fortunate that we were there to help as there were only a few volunteers already there and that would not have been enough."

From that day on JRS SEE Croatia has helped hundreds of people both at the reception centre in Zagreb and at the temporary reception camp set up near the Serbian border.

Over the last fourteen days around 92,000 people have crossed into Croatia from Serbia. Most have passed through the Tovarnik border crossing and have spent time in the temporary reception camp at Opatovac. There are Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans travelling with little more than the clothes they wear. With no other avenues open to them they have already endured terrible journeys to reach Croatia risking their lives by sea and land.

Jelena Firic, advocacy officer for JRS SEE, who is currently in the Opatovac admission centre says: "I didn’t think that there were so many children, mostly babies, amongst the refugees. It was something that surprised me. And when some of them get lost we do everything we can to help them find their family."

JRS SEE staff are helping refugees in the camp by providing medication, handing out food, water, blankets and raincoats. As the autumn progresses the rain and the cold are going to become an important issue. 

Speaking to JRS, a man from Syria said, "thank you, you have given us hope. We have been bullied, abused and robbed so many times and then we came upon Croatia. We can’t believe that we don’t have to pay for food, water, a bed… Thank you a million times, and may you all be blessed."

In cooperation with the Croatian authorities and the Red Cross, JRS SEE is doing everything it can to keep up with the needs of refugees in a rapidly changing situation.

"There are a lot of sad stories you come across every day but none of the refugees want or need your pity, they need your help. A Syrian woman got teary-eyed when she saw my JRS vest and said that she used to volunteer for us in Syria. All she wants is to be close to her children who are in the Netherlands. All I could do is tell her I wish her good luck, give her a hug and that’s all she needed. They just need some compassion," says Marinela Vidic-Ivoš, communications officer for JRS SEE.

To keep up-to-date with the work of JRS SEE in Croatia please visit their Facebook page.

“We have been bullied, abused and robbed so many times and then we came upon Croatia. We can’t believe that we don’t have to pay for food, water, a bed.” – a man from Syria.