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Goldsmiths students organising migrant relief

Goldsmiths students have created a ‘Balkans Relief’ emergency aid group to assist refugees in crisis across Europe.

Along with other students from the UK they are joining with German, Scandinavian and US students to coordinate fundraising and relief efforts to refugees travelling through the Balkans.

The group purchases essential items such as food, winter clothing and hygiene products directly in the countries of distribution and transports them to areas otherwise missed by current humanitarian groups.

Student James Bonham recently visited the Croatian-Slovenian border with Balkans Relief where he worked with other groups to acquire and distribute aid to those in need. He said: “Unlike larger organisations we can be very flexible and reach rapidly those areas where the need is greatest.”

Serbians, Kosovans and Albanians are the second largest group of asylum seekers after Syrians and there is growing concern over how people travelling through these countries will cope in the coming winter months.

These migrants do not often receive international media attention and are not likely to last long in the EU, according to VICE News. Many of the Balkan countries are deemed “safe” by Berlin.

Former editor Oscar Webb was recently in the Balkans. During his visit he explained how many of the borders between Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria were being intermittently closed, leaving refugees stranded in poor conditions. He said: “I experienced Slovenia closing one of its border crossings for 24 hours, where refugees were left trapped outside without any shelter for almost the whole 24 hours. At least three people were admitted to hospital for hypothermia.”

“I hear the situation has improved somewhat recently but Austria is now talking of shutting its borders so it looks like similar situations will continue into the winter and the weather will obviously get a lot worse.”

He said that many of these individuals felt “completely let down” by larger NGOs and were struggling with the scale of the humanitarian challenge facing them. “They were doing the best job they could but were completely worn out.”

Humanitarian relief had no presence on many of the Balkans border crossings and relief work is not evenly distributed. The UNHCR is coordinating much of the relief but the work of smaller organisations and groups like Balkans Relief are for the moment vital in the region.

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Joanna Peasland

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