Refugees cannot come to you, will you go to them?

Representatives of 10 towns and municipalities alongside with local and national authorities, participants of this regional gathering include United Nations agencies and other international organizations, civil society and private sector representatives located on the refugee and migration route from the Near East to the European Union, meet in Belgrade on 4-th and 5-th September for a two-day conference devoted to better migration management and enhancement of local resilience.

During the conference organized by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), representatives from Kutina (Croatia) KanjiĹža, Šid and Preševo (Serbia), Gevgelija and Kumanovo (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), and Gaziantep and Sanliurfa (Turkey) will try to improve coordination, exchange information, knowledge and experience to better respond to - and manage the ongoing migration crisis.

The Conference provided an opportunity for the most vulnerable local governments to strengthen local resilience by balancing public finances, management of municipal assets, increasing knowledge and data on available resources, preparedness and contingency planning, maintaining social cohesion, social and economic inclusion of migrants and refugees and reducing the impact of migration on the environment.

The only representative from Macedonian NGO-s, was Mersiha Smailovikj, general secretary of LEGIS. In her 15 min. speech, in the panel of Social Inclusion, she noted:

“I want to be clear that I understand that people in many different countries have fears about the refugee situation. 

They are worried about the impact on their communities, livelihoods and security if they accept refugees into their countries. It is not wrong to feel unsettled face by a crisis of such complexity and such magnitude. But we must not let fears get the better of us. 

We must not let fear stand in the way of an effective response that is in our long-term interests. 

The most common fear is a possible scenario of refugees wanting to seek asylum in Macedonia for the purpose of living there. Consequently, that arises fear of taking over job possibilities, religious extremism and rise in crime.

As they come from a different social, political and cultural background, in order for them to be able to adjust to the new surroundings they inevitably need to be integrated. For that to be successful though, it is mandatory that they are not marginalized and that the local population is actively engaged to help them in the process.”  In her speech she also give short guideline about the 200 stranded refugees, who are staying in the Macedonian camps, for more than 6 months, without any legal status.

“And while these debates are important, I also urge to all of you, to visit the refugees, to see firsthand their suffering and the impact it is having on the region. Those refugees cannot come to you, so please, will you go to them.”