12.11.2021. Refugees for Refugees (R4R) is a pilot project activity the BCHR has been implementing since April 2021 within the Support to Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Serbia project, in executive partnership with the UNHCR Office in Serbia. R4R was designed to provide vulnerable categories, such as refugees and asylum seekers, with additional assistance and support that is extended by integrated refugees. These assistants, who have themselves gone through the asylum procedure, have already substantially integrated in Serbia’s society and are now extending help to BCHR’s new clients. Our refugee and asylum-seeking clients have the opportunity to receive more sensitive support from R4R assistants, who are both willing and able to share their personal experiences about their life in Serbia, advise them and provide them with useful information on how to exercise their rights and fulfil their obligations.

Our assistants, a man from Iran and a woman from Burundi, who have been granted refuge in Serbia and are already well-integrated in our society, have been extending additional support to our clients – familiarising them with the procedures for getting their work permits and replacing their foreign driver’s licences, as well as developing contacts with the host community. The assistants also help refugees and asylum-seekers open bank accounts, obtain public transportation passes and various health certificates and certificates issued by the National Employment Service (NES).

In their contacts with BCHR’s clients, the assistants have been emphasising the importance of them learning Serbian, as the first and indispensable step in the integration process. Life in a new community is much easier if one knows the local language and is able to communicate in it, as demonstrated by the example of our assistants, who have already mastered Serbian and highly integrated in society. Through the support extended by the assistants, R4R promotes full integration, which entails mastering the Serbian language and development of the refugees’ and asylum seekers’ social life in Serbia.

The assistants’ experiences in extending support to our clients are positive. They agree that support extended by integrated refugees is important and facilitates the integration of new refugees. The assistants are extremely pleased that they are taking part in R4R because it provides them with a chance to help people, which they find personally fulfilling. Asked about the clients’ feedback, they said that the clients often thanked them, saying it meant a lot to them to know that someone had experienced the same crises they are going through now and succeeded in integrating. The clients are interested in our assistants’ personal experiences in adjusting to the new community and culture, learning the language, finding a job. The clients have often complained about how hard Serbian is and that they feel isolated.  However, the good practice example our assistants are promoting shows that it is possible to learn a new language and adjust to a new community, encouraging our clients to delve into learning the language and thus starting the process of integrating in their new community.

One of the assistants thinks that R4R beneficiaries are having an easier time, because they are receiving additional support and useful advice on how to proceed in specific situations. One of the assistants noted that, interestingly, the new clients were initially unaware that their assistants had themselves experienced similar crises and situations and that they realised only after talking with them that they were not the only ones, that they were not alone and that there was someone who understood them and could provide them with the best possible advice.

Refugees and asylum seekers benefitting from R4R also sing praises to the activity. They are glad the assistants are there to help them solve some of their problems, such as opening a bank account or obtaining an NES certificate, and that they have someone they can talk to, who can understand them better and provide them useful advice on integration in the new community. Some clients would prefer to have assistants coming their country of origin, because they think that someone coming from the same culture and speaking the same language would be able to help them more. The BCHR has been endeavouring to extend additional support to as many of its clients as possible through the R4R activity, to facilitate their integration in the new community.

RfR aims at providing more sensitive integration support to individuals in need of such assistance and at emphasising the importance of extending additional support to a vulnerable category such as refugees and asylum seekers. Both the assistants and the beneficiaries agree that the activity is extremely useful and indispensable in the process of adjusting to the new community and overcoming cultural and linguistic barriers, as well as coping with personal crises they are going through as refugees settling down in a new society.