During the past months, anywhere between 500 and 2000 refugees at any given moment have been stuck across three camps and surrounding areas in the north of Serbia. Subotica official camp, along with the informal transit zone camps of Kelebija and Horgoš, serve as temporary homes to people fleeing war, persecution and extreme hardship from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries. Among them are countless vulnerable cases, as children make up over a third of the population and numerous unaccompanied minors as young as twelve years old are traveling on their own.
The living conditions people are forced to endure while trying to navigate an endlessly confusing, constantly changing, and corrupt system are maddening. In terms of food, the quality given by official institutions is bleak - with a typical daily ration consisting of a cup of tea, bread with a can of tuna for breakfast and dinner, and a 'hot lunch' in the form of instant noodles with hot water. It's difficult for most of us to imagine eating the same food a few days in a row, let alone something like this for week after week. In our view, this is merely a diet of survival calories, which makes no effort to take into account the tastes, preferences, cultural considerations, and long-term health implications of people who could be stranded in this area for months.
Starting as a group of independent volunteers in June 2016, Fresh Response has been working towards filling these gaps, and attempting to restore some of the agency and dignity that people here deserve. Our core focus up until now has been in distributing daily fresh fruits and vegetables to supplement the inadequate rations, to combat malnutrition and mitigate long-term health problems. In addition, depending on the specific camp population and their unique needs and requests, we regularly give out fresh potato burek from a local bakery (a Serbian specialty popular with refugees) along with yogurt, cooking oil, salt, sugar, spices, dates, chocolates, cookware and other ingredients -- in order to support those refugees who are able to cook for themselves.
More recently, in the face of a fast approaching winter, we've been working hard to adapt to the changing needs by increasing our capacity to distribute essential non-food items: critical kit such as rain jackets, tents, sleeping bags, hygiene packs, and warm clothing to survive the cold and wet days ahead.
Though we are an entirely volunteer-driven team funded by our own savings and numerous generous donations from friends and supporters, we need to raise more funds soon to be able to continue to help refugees here through the winter. Our daily operating costs are substantial: roughly 350 euro per day depending on the current population size, all of which goes towards food and occasional NFI (non-food item) purchases in bulk from local suppliers. In a week we might distribute around 7.5 metric tonnes of fruits and vegetables, or about 2000 family sized food and potato bags.
Please consider supporting our work here so that we can continue to not only provide quality food and clothing served with dignity and respect, but also be a warm and welcoming presence to refugees on their long road to Europe. As one of the only independent volunteer initiatives in the north of Serbia, we intend to stick it out here for the long-term, and cannot do it without your support.