In the town of Sjenica, in southwestern Serbia, the cold weather is arriving quickly. The temperature during the night already falls to zero degrees Celsius, and snow is expected any day. That’s when the temperature can go to below -10 degrees Celsius.
Cold Sjenica houses one of the twelve centres in Serbia where refugees and migrants are accommodated .
Some 200 refugees and migrants are currently keeping warm in the Sjenica reception centre. The liveliest times here are during meals. Among the many refugees and migrants who left their homes in search of safety are the three Nourestany sisters.
Two girls, Naedel and Dunya, aged four and three, have just finished their breakfast – eggs and bread. Their older sister Zorah is taking them to an improvised room. It’s actually a small space with military bunk beds, separated from the hall not by a door, but by a purple cloth hung over a wire, whichat least provides some privacy.
All three of them are taking off rubber summer clogs before entering the ‘room’. Lice have appeared in the centres, so they must pay extra attention not to bring dirt into the place where they sleep.
They sit down with bare feet and start piling the clothes they have. They’re mostly summer clothes; not much they could use when the snow falls and it gets really cold.
“The weather is starting to get cold these days. I don’t have a jacket or boots. I don’t have a warm winter hat on my head. I want to have a new winter hat, new boots, a new sweater,” explains Naedel, looking at her older sister, who, at that moment, finds an old sweater in a bag under the bed.
Zorah, the oldest sister, passes it to the youngest – Dunya. She looks through the window towards the mountains with a worried look of an adult, although she is only fifteen. “It’s going to be really cold here, and we do not have the proper clothes to keep warm. What we have are the things left to us by the people who moved on; these are some of their old clothes. We don’t have warm clothes. We have old boots which are not warm enough,” says Zorah and continues searching through the bag.
Their older brother enters and signals with his hands to quickly go outside because something is being distributed at the entrance of the Centre.
While approaching the line of people, the three sisters can already see children coming out with new boots and sets of winter clothes. They cannot believe their eyes. Just moments ago, they were looking for ways to spend the evening wrapped in something other than blankets which are dusty, but at least provide some warmth.
Warm blue boots and jackets and winter pants in various colours will be useful in the evenings, and in several weeks, they will also be able to go out in the snow in these clothes without fearing the cold.
UNICEF is providing winter shoes and clothes to refugee and migrant children in reception and transit centres in Serbia, thanks to donations from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO) and the Government of Japan.
And the three Nourestany sisters can now wait excitedly for the first snowflakes, instead of fearing the winter. And that is the kind of warmth no furnace can provide.
Severine Leonard is the Deputy Representative for UNICEF in Serbia