By Hilkka Hyrkko, IFRC
Welcoming people from other places and handling migration is not new to Montenegro. This small state with about 620,000 inhabitants received 156,950 people during the conflicts that followed the collapse of former Yugoslavia.
Decades on, new arrivals continue to come from Cuba, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen and many other countries. The Red Cross of Montenegro has been supporting those families who arrived in the 90s and those who arrive today. This summer saw an increase in the number of migrants coming to the country – since May, almost 400 people have arrived.
They are a mixture of people – some are trying to make it to other countries further north or west in Europe, others have secured refugee status, some are asylum seekers who have had their applications turned down in other countries and have been returned to Montenegro. But what everyone has in common is that they need support to cope, adjust or settle in.
Until August, asylum seekers were sent to one reception centre. Since then, other accommodation has been provided but they’re now all running at capacity.
Working with authorities
“We are working closely with authorities like the border police, asylum office and bureau for refugees and asylum seekers to identify what people need and how we can help which can everything from psychological support to clothes,” explained Red Cross information officer Milica Kovacevic.
Tatiana Bokareva from Belarus has been granted refugee status and can begin rebuilding her life in safety. She and her ten-year-old son Rostislav left Belarus’s capital Minsk, late last year.
“I participated in a peaceful demonstration a couple of years ago and after that I faced persecution,” she explained from her flat in the small coastal town of Bar.
She began to fear for her own future and that of her son. They arrived in Montenegro in December after a week-long journey. The pair spent seven months in the reception centre and this August, they were granted refugee status and found a flat.
The Red Cross of Montenegro, together with UNHCR, is providing them with furniture, kitchenware and other basic supplies. The family is doing well – Rostislav has already mastered the local language, is a keen pupil and was recently awarded a certificate for his running skills by his school. And as soon as Tatiana’s paperwork is rubber-stamped, she will be allowed to work.
Waiting on an application
Niurka from Cuba has been living in Montenegro for more than a year as, awaiting the outcome of her asylum application. Her son Jonathan recently enrolled in the third grade of a local school where the Red Cross was able to provide him with books and school supplies.
“I am very happy with life in Montenegro and I hope our application is successful, this is a very lovely country,” said Niurka. “I’m happy Jonathan has started school – he was a very good student back home and he brought his notebooks with him. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay there anymore.”
Jonathan has made friends at school who are helping him settle in. “My friends at school are great and my favourite subject is mathematics,” he said. “I have difficulties with language but I will learn with my friends.”
The Red Cross of Montenegro is also providing support for asylum seekers who have lost contact with their families on the journey, as well as running first aid trainings and workshops to prevent people from becoming victims of trafficking.