Integration of young refugees in Serbia is still difficult to achieve photo. S. Djordjević

Integration of young refugees in Serbia is still difficult to achieve

februar 23 2020

Children and some young refugees are trying to learn as much as possible while in Serbia. They manage a lot, but there are still many problems to overcome. Of about 850 children and young people, just over 200 attend school.

Ever since 2013, when refugee children first started going to school, there have been a lot of protests and negative reactions in some places, especially in northern Serbia. Seven years later, things have changed significantly. Negative reactions on this issue are less frequent and much milder, and according to a MRC poll, conducted in January on the site and social networks, about 90% of those surveyed believe that refugee children should go to school with Serbian children.

Even among the migrant population, things have changed significantly in the positive direction. Every year, there are more and more students from the Middle East countries. But not only the Middle East.

High school students are also present in Serbia

Jalla Karim is from Guinea. He is 17 years old and has been in Serbia for a year. He is located in the center of Krnjaca, and the only thing that he does not want is to waste time. This September he enrolled in high school as a regular student.

"I enrolled in the School of Mechanical Engineering and Arts, “Techno Art”. I do most of the things in English, though I try to learn Serbian. I still speak it poorly. What is in Serbian is translated into English to make it easier for me, but I'm learning the language at the same time, "Jalla tells MRC.


He says he was almost terrified when he went to school on the first day, and that he had imagined that moment many times in his mind. "I was nervous, I imagined what it would look like because I know I'm the only one here from Africa. And for them, it was something completely new. As I came to school, day after day, they were a little anxious, they asked a lot of questions. I used to be uncomfortable, and that first period was very difficult for me. As I kept going, I think everything is going well. "

Jalla is one of the 30 high school students who live in Serbia's refugee centers, although they are not found in all the cities where the centers are located. All relevant institutions, and the school itself, through the Commissariat for Refugees and the competent Ministry, to the Center for Social Work which is the official guardian of this seventeen-year-old boy, since he is in Serbia without parents, participated in the selection of the school.

He did not want to talk about leaving his country, saying that it is a painful topic for him. But he is sure he wants to learn as much as possible because he wants a better future, and, as he says, a normal and comfortable life. He now has friends to hang out with at school, and he would love to stay in Serbia. He has not yet sought asylum because he does not have any documents with him, but he is also assisted by a trustee, the Center for Social Work, in this process.

The asylum loses the race with possible problems

The asylum was sought by a seventeen-year-old who remained in the heart of his violin teacher, Milena Stevanovic. A very talented young man who had never played nor attended a music school before, Kamran from Iran, with his talent and work, compensated it all at the Secondary Music School in Niš.

"Before he and I met through music, Kamran did not know for wi-fi or youtube, nor for the possibility to listen to compositions over the phone. He had a very strong desire to learn and improve himself, especially in the field of music”, says the violin professor. Kamran is also a karate player and even competed in this sport discipline. As he was housed in a correctional facility, and he would lose his accommodation after being eighteen and then would be transferred to a refugee center in Sjenica where only men reside. That is why, despite seeking asylum in Serbia, he left it.

As barely half of middle-aged children attend school, this can be a big problem for these young people, according to Indigo psychologist Tijana Kostov. While both these and all other organizations care about quality free time, Tijana told MIC that anxiety and depression are very common in both children and young people.

"That situation of hopelessness they find themselves in causes this feeling of anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, we have experienced cases of self-harm, especially in teenagers, when they direct their anger due to feelings of hopelessness towards themselves because they cannot direct it anywhere else, ”Tijana Kostov said.

It is not easy to escape from reality, so organizations working in refugee centers in Serbia have no easy task. While some like to shorten their day with creative workshops, others don't see the point in this, like Sonia Haidari, who completed two years of midwifery in Afghanistan. "There are some interesting workshops, but I don't want to be a painter. I want to continue my studies and be a surgeon. I want to follow my dream and fight for myself”, she says.

Socialization and integration remain problems

Her dream is to go with her family to Germany, where her brother is waiting for her. In the meantime, she's waiting. This is another problem that psychologist Tijana Kostov points out: “Integration and their socialization is still a problem. As for the people in Serbia, they still have a problem accepting them in some way, but the refugees themselves say that they do not want to accept a different culture. In this context, if we talk about the physical distance of the refugee centers from the city centers, this has a positive side at the moment. And organizations are working hard to make that integration happen once, though I don't think it will any time soon, "Kostov says.


skolovanje migranata Srbija 02

Refugee center in Vranje, daily life of refugees © Saša Đorđević

From the Commissariat for Refugees we learn that the biggest problem is the education of unaccompanied minor high school students. Of the 450 unaccompanied minors, less than 5% go to school. In this institution they state that all children who have finished elementary school and who find themselves in the territory of Serbia can enroll in high school if they have the necessary documents for enrollment. Migrant children attending primary school and at any time discontinue schooling to cross borders, receive a school report in both Serbian and English from the school. Those who attend classes from beginning to end receive a certificate of completion of grade or schooling.skolovanje migranata Srbija 17

At school, refugee children and children from Serbia study together ©Sasa Djordjevic

In order to get the children involved in regular education as soon as possible, all organizations work together on this. "Children who come to Serbia have spent a long time outside the education system and when they enroll in school, for them, it primarily means a sense of normality and routine, which is most important for children," says Indigo Executive Director Tamara Simonovic. She emphasizes that the skills of fitting and adaptation and the skill of learning a new language are most important for children of school age, more important than the knowledge of the Serbian language itself.

Non-formal education is also of great importance for those who go to school and for those outside the education system, says Tamara Simonovic. “In the school and in the activities we organize in the reception centers, we work on a lot of topics, from the solar system, planets, celebrities, famous scientists, to music directions, various contents about the body and about animals. There is a lot of content and our contents are conditioned by the choice of children and parents. We also try to engage parents as much as possible, because parents are a little sidelined in all this. And it is very important to include them because they indulge themselves due to the situation they are in, because of the very big problems they have. "

Because parents play a key role, Tamara says she does not remember any particular resistance because of cultural differences. "Maybe at first they were a little bit worried about how girls and boys go to school together, but simply, these are people who have moved to Europe and made some decisions about wanting a different life for their children and themselves, so we almost had no problems".

Touching farewells

Resistance of the locals when refugee children started going to school was significantly less in the south of the country compared to the north, if there was any. Following the example of Bela Palanka, while there still was a refugee center in Divljana, when the school Ljupce Spanac received its first students from the Middle East, the only dilemma was how to adapt the teaching for them because they did not speak Serbian.

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Teacher from Bela Palanka parting with students from Afghanistan © Sasa Djordjevic

Teachers and tutors had a much more difficult task than new students, teaching in English. However, the children easily fitted in, the first friendships were made and the first sympathies happened, and in the physical education, games were played in which Afghanistan and Serbia competed. They made joint strides about friendship and recited together at school Saint Day and other events.

So it is not surprising that when the refugee center in Divljana was closed, the teacher of this school cried because she was losing good mathematicians and dear students from Afghanistan. It is likely that they will always remember their first school days in a small town in the south of Serbia and physical classes in which, although few, they often beat friends from the "Serbian team".

For more photos click here

Author: Jelena Djukic Pejic

Translation: Mladen Djordjevic

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