Verhaal, 1 januari 2022

Vladimir from Serbia: ‘I truly believe in a multicultural society’

De Balkan Refugee and Migration Council (BRMC) is een coalitie van vijf maatschappelijke organisaties uit de Westelijke Balkan. Een daarvan is Group 484, een Servische NGO die vluchtelingen en migranten in Servië en aan de grens van de EU ondersteunt. Directeur Vladimir Petronijevic vertelt meer over zijn werk, uitdagingen en hoop voor de toekomst.
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Human rights violations and hostilities  

In his everyday work, Vladimir is confronted with mounting evidence of human rights violations against people trying to make their way to the European Union or find their way in Serbia. Pushbacks, violence and hostilities are a daily reality for migrants and refugees.

‘All countries in the Western Balkan region are faced with more or less the same challenges’, Vladimir explains. ‘If you want to have an effective migration policy and a proper response to the situation, you should not only look at migration on a national level, but also on the regional, European and international levels.’

Support for refugees

Group 484 provides direct assistance to migrants and refugees by offering legal advice and psycho-social, educational, and integration support. ‘Initiatives like our “We and the Others” programme connect “locals” and “newcomers”, which fosters understanding and intercultural dialogue.’

Bringing voices of NGOs to the table

‘What we need in our region is more cooperation between states to deal with the challenges and opportunities that migration confronts us with; that is what we have always advocated for. When we founded the BRMC three years ago, we set out to work together to identify challenges and propose solutions.

We offer training and capacity building for state and regional institutions and for NGOs. And we make sure that the voices of citizens in the region are heard through these NGOs. Most of the time, those voices are very different from the government’s positions.’

Keeping protection and smuggling on the agenda

‘We can be proud that we have been able to build a sustained platform of NGOs supported by major donors. And as a coalition, we have succeeded in promoting the most relevant regional topics in the context of migration. These include the protection and smuggling of migrants, which are the biggest challenges at the moment.’

‘Since Serbia is gearing up for elections in April, it’s now very difficult for us to keep these issues high on the relevant stakeholders’ agendas. But we’re doing our utmost to keep the flame alive.’

Europe can do better

‘When I think of the future, I would like to see regional cooperation to establish effective policies that recognise the rights and needs of migrants and refugees, lessen hostility towards these people, and help to integrate them. We should be talking about their potential and ensuring access to education. We already have many examples of people who finish secondary school, finish university and are very good students and valuable members of society.’

‘This is my dream. I truly believe in a multicultural society, though that’s not very popular in eastern Europe and the Western Balkans these days, especially the last few years. But I truly believe this is possible, and it is what we should build together. Although current events in Europe can make you cynical, I want to believe that a better Europe is possible.’

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