Some 4000 to 7000 people currently cross into Croatia and Slovenia every day, fleeing war and terror in their home countries. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), national Red Cross societies, various NGOs and a great many volunteers are helping the Croatian and Slovenian civil protection organisations working in the transit centres. Nevertheless, the large number of migrants poses a huge challenge for the countries along what is known as the Western Balkan route.
When, in the last week of October, Slovenia and Croatia applied to Switzerland for help, Swiss Humanitarian Aid decided to support civil protection and civil society organisations in the two countries. On 11 November, a lorry from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid depot in Wabern was already on its way carrying 7.2 tonnes of relief supplies (water tanks, distribution units and blankets). The supplies were handed over to the Slovenian civil protection authorities the following day.
On 12 November a Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) team also travelled to Slovenia. The SHA experts are to purchase more material locally and share their expertise with the civil protection authorities, e.g. to help them improve sanitary facilities in the transit centres. The experts are working in the Slovenian Šentilj transit centre on the Austrian border, and will extend their activities to Croatia in the coming days. Another line of action involves volunteers. Part of the budget has been made available to the Croatian Red Cross and the organisation Slovene Philanthropy, which are coordinating volunteers. CHF 1 million has been earmarked for the project in Slovenia and Croatia.
These lines of action emerged from a trip by three Swiss Humanitarian Aid experts from 4 to 8 November to assess the situation in Slovenia and Croatia. The team identified winter infrastructure, winter washing and sanitation facilities, support services for volunteers working to the point of exhaustion and the provision of translators (Urdu, Farsi and Arabic) as the most pressing needs in the reception centres.
A few months ago, in the framework of migration partnerships with Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) provided the partner countries with extra funding. Among other things, these funds have been used to set up a reception centre in Preševo, on the border between Serbia and Macedonia. In addition, the SEM has provided CHF 1.5 million to the countries in the region (mainly Serbia and Macedonia) in response to calls from the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Switzerland also allocates funds to NGOs and representatives of civil society active in the field of migration in these countries. The projects have been developed with the help of the Swiss embassies and cooperation offices. Finally, Switzerland is participating in an IOM regional project to improve the exchange of information between the affected countries. Elsewhere, the SHA has seconded a water and sanitation specialist to the UNHCR in Greece, who is providing expertise on drinking water and sanitation in the local reception centres.
However, Switzerland is deploying its biggest efforts to help refugees in the crisis region itself. Since the outbreak of the conflict in Syria in March 2011, Switzerland has spent a total of CHF 203 million on projects in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. The Federal Council decided to increase this aid to CHF 70 million in September. The additional funds are intended for projects in connection with the crisis in Syria and Iraq and in the Horn of Africa.
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