Serbia: Photostory - a glimpse into the lives of refugees

19 Feb 2015
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On their journey through the Balkans to seek better protection and assistance in Europe, many asylum seekers, refugees and migrants are stranded in forests and abandoned buildings in Serbia.

They struggle through the cold weather without sufficient food or shelter, and have limited access to basic medical care. They are exposed to the risk of criminal networks, physical attacks and robberies.

The European Union asylum system has so far failed to offer them aid and protection upon arrival. Not allowed to transit through the EU, they have no choice other than to use irregular migration routes to reach safety and protection.

Many have already experienced appalling conditions while being detained in Greece and Macedonia. They are forced to continue this long journey, without knowing where it will end.


In Subotica, near the Hungarian border, hundreds of asylum seekers and migrants used to shelter in an old brick factory, but now the place is empty.

“The police came four days ago and took everyone who didn't manage to escape,” said an asylum seeker.  

Near the abandoned factory, MSF team distributes “transit kits” to asylum seekers and migrants who are camping in the “jungle” of Subotica.

Each kit contains soups, energy bars, tea, coffee and sugar, as well as a mug, matches, a torch lamp, a rain poncho, razors, a piece of soap, a comb, a toothbrush and a towel.

“From walking all that time without socks I ended up having huge blisters. It's OK now, but look, we can still see some of them,” said a 37-year-old Afghan man who has done his entire journey without socks.  

A pair of burnt shoes left in the 'jungle'. “The police burnt everything. They asked us to remove our shoes, our jackets and burnt all our belongings.” said a 17-year-old Afghan refugee.

MSF mobile clinics provides new shoes, socks, fresh underwear, and a “transit kit” to refugees in need. Despite the subzero temperatures, many have no choice but to sleep outside.


A six-year-old Syrian boy was burnt by a broken shower in a detention centre in Macedonia six days ago. His wound had not been redressed for days and an MSF nurse changes the dressing for him during a consultation.

A group of men from Togo, Gambia, Mali and Ivory Coast keep themselves warm around a small campfire in the garden next to the Bogovadja asylum centre where they were denied access. The group has in total two sleeping bags for 10 men for the night.

A Togolese man and others are denied access to the Bogovadja centre. “It’s been four days. We are freezing outside… We did all that is required… but here again they refused to give us the papers…” he said with tears in his eyes. 

“I can't keep going like this without sleeping. It is for a maximum of five minutes each time. I am too cold to sleep, I don't even have a blanket.

"I have to stay around the fire outside to stay alive. I am beyond tired. Why are we treated like criminals?” said a Togolese migrant.

“Some people were sleeping here last night. They left very early in the morning as they could not sleep. Last night was very cold and it was snowing all night,” said a Malian migrant.

MSF staff are checking an abandoned house where some asylum seekers and migrants seek refuge for the night when they are not allowed inside the asylum centre in Bogovadja. They also leave food and water in the house for those refused from the centre. 

“It is inhumane! I thought Europeans were good people. Now what am I supposed to think of them when they treat us worse than criminals?” said a Togolese migrant. 

Learn more about MSF's work with refugees