Yugoslavia was an artificially created state, established after the end of the WWII. Six republics and two autonomous regions formed the Yugoslavian state. ‘Yugoslavia had eight distinct peoples in six republics, with five languages, three religions (Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim), and two alphabets (Roman and Cyrillic)’ (Cameron Hewitt, 2012).

When Tito died in 1980, the union of Yugoslavia began to unravel, with each republic claiming more autonomy. Moreover, the dire economic situation, accompanied by strong nationalistic feelings and political differences led to the dissolution of the state.

It started with Slovenia declaring its independence in 1991, followed by Croatia, but this time violence broke out between Serbia and Croatia. Shortly after, Bosnia and Herzegovina also declared its independence and the conflict turned into full-scale one with mass murders (e.x. Srebrenica) and ethnic cleansing and forced migration on different sides. The conflict lasted four years.

In 1995, ceasefire was declared by the signing of the Dayton Agreement (Dayton Peace Accord).

Four years later, the ongoing crisis reached another phase with the rebellion of the Kosovars. Ethnic cleansing, forced migration and the intervention of the international community described the struggle for independence of Kosovo.



Due to the forced migration and the raise of nationalism, the geo-ethnical picture of the region has changed and it is still playing an important role.

Nowadays, the Balkans are once again a hotspot for refugees, but this time they are hailing from different geographical and cultural backgrounds, thus causing an upheaval in the region and the closing up of borders that were previously open.


/// Personal story 1 : Dubravko, Tavankut (village in Serbia, close to the Hungarian border)

« The border was open before and during the war.  It was easy to cross… »

« I was born in Tavankut in 1986. I grow up here, went to the local primary school.  90% of the population of the village is Croatian.

I studied in Novi Sad, I returned, as I did not feel happy living in the urban area. My family was living here and there was also the prospect of a job.

Nowadays our Salaš (traditional house) consist of a folklore group, a traditional music-instruments group. There is rural tourism.  We also have youth-exchanges in our cultural centre.

The border was open before and during the war.  It was easy to cross. From 1991-1995 there were severe tensions with the Serbs. There were no murders, but there was physical violence, varying from throwing stones through windows, to bombs in houses. The biggest threat was when a group of 100 Serbs, refugees from Croatia, entered Tavankut and prepared a military action with weapons. Fortunately the city authorities intervened and send a special police unit.

Croatian people were in general quite persistent to stay during the tensions beginning of the 90’s despite what they went through. Some families left and part of them returned after the war.

The situation stayed stable around 3200 inhabitants after the war in the sense that people left and a similar amount came (back). Economic situation approved rapidly, there is a huge amount of export of apples, mainly to Russia.

The refugee-inflow and the closing of the boarder changed the situation.  Refugees from several countries from Middle-East and Africa also came to Tavankut, they stayed just for a while in the village (to buy water, food). The local population reacted kind of indifferent, even when people were beaten up by the Hungarian border police and returned through Tavankut and went further to Belgrade ».


 /// Personal story 2 : Dobrila  (NSHC)            

« We have many workers that were refugees themselves in the 90s… »                                                                                                      

Dobrila is working with Novi Sad Humanitarian Centre since 2009. At the beginning she was involved in the field of human trafficking. Later on she took over the coordination of volunteers and is now working in different refugee camps in Serbia.

“In my work with refugees it is very difficult to plan ahead due to the unpredictable nature of the work and the political situation. When more and more refugees arrived we needed to adjust fast. We initiated new projects and had to employ new people in little time. We work with very vulnerable groups, that’s why we prefer working with professionals that are experienced and dedicating themselves for longer term. As well we have many workers that were refugees themselves in the 90s. Regarding their personal background and the challenging situations in the refugee camps we provide regular supervision and psychological support to our staff.

Another important part of my work is the communication with donors, fundraising and documentation of my work to share it with journalists. On ground we provide social care and we want to prevent human trafficking in the refugee camps.

The refugee crisis has influenced the cities in our region and helped some people to find employment. The social and cultural life also improved in some small villages due to various activities and the presence of young people.”


/// Personal story 3: Tibor VARGA

For me, helping people is not a job, it’s a pleasure. This is my life…

«  I am Pastor in a Church and co-director of the NGO ISTOCNO EUROPSKA MISIJA (Trg Košuta Lajoša 1, SUBOTICA).

This NGO exists for 13 years. It is based on Christian principles, with different objectives: Helping people in needs in the surroundings (poor people, children, gypsies, marginalised people, elderly people, homeless); Helping them to maintain their lives; Educating the youngsters; Assisting in case of environmental disaster, etc.

Five people have the leadership of the NGO (some of them are from my family) and the rest are volunteers from everywhere. At the beginning, the organisation was helping the people in need with « out of date » products. In 2008, the main activity of the NGO became helping refugees.

‘ You know, I have felt that it was the right thing to do and I just want to do what is right. Today, at school, you learn how to earn money. Is that life? In Europe, money and gains are more important than people. For me, I don’t want to advertise our actions. I don’t care about websites, Facebook or existing in the media. I just want to help.

You (the youth) are facing a very hard world today. You have to be brave, XIXst century is really rough.’

The crisis of the 90’s and the current crisis are both similar and different at the same time. Today, the crisis is bigger, longer and more complicated. A lot of people have no destination and the assimilation is taking longer. What can we offer to the refugees? They have hard life… What kind of help? Can you give them hope?

In 2015, we have helped refugees living in the old brick factory of Subotica. Food was given once a day (cooked meal) and something small was given for breakfast and dinner. We have distributed and we still distribute a lot of rice to these people in need.  

Look at our stock!

When you see people from the NGOs wearing masks and gloves while helping to distribute food to people… what kind of help is it?  I don’t want to be a new disappointment for them, after war, after the fairy tales that they imagine about our countries…

Europe lost its principles and it seems like no politician knows how to solve the problem. They have no feeling that these are people in need. A lot of money for refugees is wasted. But it is not a problem that we can resolve with money!

Look, I have a wall with some pictures (not so many, as you see!): here is an afghan man. This man was a nurse in a hospital in his country. He told me that he was attacked by a Taliban, during his work. This man had to run away from Afghanistan, with his family. One day, I asked him “how do you feel?” He answered to me “You know, you are the first person who asks me how I am doing after 6 months.”

Actions in some datas

13 years of existence

700 breads distributed per day in 2015

140 000 eggs given by a farm (1 extraordinary gift)

2 months to finish these eggs

150 persons regularly came to the office

10000 refugees are in Serbia today (camps included), from Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Turkmenistan, Iran, Bangladesh…


Some other inspiring sentences

To do what is right, what is the important.

Everybody want to be loved, truly loved.

God provides and he guides. (Christian principles)

It was always sad when somebody left, because we made friends.

If anything else, in your heart, you know that is right.



In the aftermath of the Balkan wars, seven independent states emerged. Even though a de-facto peace is now present in the region, a reconciliation process never really took place, leaving room for tensions.

The current refugee influx has brought back the attention to the Balkan region as the countries are part of the Balkan route leading to Western Europe. Instead of serving as a uniting point, the influx has actually revealed the ‘fresh wounds’ from the past (instability).

The dimensions of the forced migration in the 90s and the current one share a lot of similarities, as well as differences. Insecurity, dependence on humanitarian and legal aid and the intense uncertainty concerning the family situation are all common features. When it comes to the differences, in the 90s, there was relative stability in the ‘collective’ refugee centres, while currently, the situation is constantly changing with closing and eviction of camps, barracks and even ‘jungles’, along with the closing-up of the borders.  Another aspect is the different socio-cultural background of the refugees now, including the different languages.

No Border Fest is a frame for meeting and debating on the subject of contemporary migrations through workshops, exhibitions, debates, music and theater.

SCI Italy in partnership with Radio Ghetto Voci Libere and Laboratorio 53 among the others, organized a PATH study camp together with No border Fest in Rome, Italy between 12th and 21st June. This study camp was aiming at stimulating debate on forced migration and labor exploitation.

8 international volunteers from France, Hungary, Italy, UK and Senegal were teamed up with local volunteers (approx. 30) to support the organization of the festival. During these 2-day long festival (16-17 June) different issues were discussed such as social inclusion, freedom of movement and self-determination.

On 17th of June, the festival addressed some issues like self-determination, social inclusion and freedom of movement via workshops and audio/visual exhibitions. For examples, ‘Yeppo!’ – a workshop of Ludopedagogy by Liscia and Laboratorio 53; International Cuisine workshops by La Citta dell’Útopia, etc.

This festival has gathered more than 400 people together to create a society regardless of colors, nationalities, cultures, etc. From this study camp and event, there is No Borders in our hearts because we are all the same.

17-21 November 2016 the members of the PATH project and the Building Bridges campaign teamed up in Budapest for a coordination meeting. Both PATH and Building Bridges focus on refugee related topics, PATH on learning lessons from the forced migration in the past and Building Bridges on cooperation, knowledge sharing and raising awareness about refugee issues. The meeting was successful and gave direction to future work. Main areas of work were identified and tasks distributed to the team members.

During our meeting the team planned the implementation of an upcoming PATH project that wants to remember and explore the history of e.g. the Spanish Civil war and the Yugoslav wars and invites participants to relive stories of people who have walked a long path, seeking refugee back then and nowadays. How can we use lessons learnt to (re)shape our current reality? Throughout five activities (2 seminars and 3 study camps), the participants will be working with media to cover the experience of 3 generations with forced migration and present their stories and good practices that can lead to innovations in our diverse society. The exhibition and video will be available both offline and online and presented at the final event in Bulgaria in January 2018. We look forward to meet you on our PATH.

The Building Bridges team started out evaluating the activities done so far. Last year there were 36 Building Bridges labelled work camps, two trainings and 12 projects funded by the Refugee Fund. The toolkit of Building Bridges has been successful and we will keep on distributing it around, with the addition that in the future it will be possible also for the users of the toolkit upload content on it. The Refugee Fund is now having its second round, and we are looking for new donations. If you would like to donate, please visit our Ammado fundraising page!  Promotion of the campaign will be more active from now on, so keep following the website, our newsletters, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn groups of the SCI for more information about Building Bridges.

During the weekend in Budapest also promotion material was filmed for both Building Bridges campaign and PATH project. Watch here the Building Bridges promotion video!


When President Tito died in 1980, the union of Yugoslavia began to unravel, with each republic claiming more autonomy. A series of political upheavals and conflicts in early 1990s, ethnic cleansing, forced migration and the intervention of the international community. Nowadays, the Balkans are once again becoming a hotspot for refugees, but this time they are hailing from different geographical and cultural backgrounds.

‘One Step Forward, One Step Back’ was a seminar within the framework of the project PATH, where SCI’s volunteers and activists gathered with an interest of working with refugees. This seminar was hosted by Volunteers’ Center of Vojvodina. Participants from more than 9 countries gathered for 7 days to learn, share, challenge, create and change.

During this seminar, participants have learned about the wars in ex-Yugoslavia, forced migrations and challenges during and after the wars, discussed existing initiatives that support refugees and migrants along the “Balkan route” in local communities. They experienced a “living library” (some as readers, some even as books themselves, sharing their personal experiences as refugees or people affected by forced migration) and helped organize a public event - documentary film screening followed by a discussion in CK13 Youth Center in Novi Sad, click here, which opened the space for narratives from the margin, and highlighted the importance of these stories in order to encourage, build and live peace in times when conflicts and bigotry seem to be given.

“I think that this seminar was an excellent experience, we have to learn how to face violence and discrimination, but not for now and not just in our local place.” said Sandra, a participant from Catalonia.

Check here, an article written by a participant from Kosovo.


In the 1930s, fascist governments were on the rise in Europe, starting from Italy and spreading to Germany. Ideological and social conflicts also developed in Spain. Republican “reds” and fascist forces under Franco clashed in the Spanish Civil War. The Fascists conducted a coup against the legitimate democratic government while they didn’t enjoy the support of the majority in the population.Franco united with other nationalist and conservative groups to fight the leftist movement and Catalan autonomous tendencies. The Fascist bloc called itself National Catholic. Thus, Catalan Republicans and Anarchists were excluded.

Many refugees, especially politically persecuted, became stateless when they had to flee to France, as they were recognized neither by the Spanish nor by the French government. Living in constant fear, some of them were sent to concentration camps like Mauthausen. They were forced to wear a triangle with an inscribed “S” meaning “stateless”. This shows the cooperation of Franco with the German National Socialist system. At the same time, groups of exiled were created in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and countries of South America.

Even upon coming back to Fascist Spain later, refugees wore the stigma of being anti-Spanish and communist, facing discrimination. Under Franco many families denied their histories and suppressed the memories of their exile until the end.

Lessons for today/Conclusions

The Spanish political system and great parts of the society officially never distanced themselves from their fascist past. The remembrance of victims, persecuted and refugees was never recognized. However, local civic movements formed to express the feelings and the demands of survivors. They show the collective power of the civil population by cooperating and connecting initiatives.

Refugees from the civil war kept their motivation to fight for a life in peace and dignity. Responsibility for their families and comrades and hopes for a better future enabled them to resist the repression of Franquist fascism. In the later course of their lives, many started to reclaim their biographies. Refugees from the whole world can draw hope from their example, and connect to their stories. By now, a new wave of remembrance includes the young population, and the memory of the Civil War can pass on into general awareness. As the last witnesses of the Spanish Civil War die, their stories shall not fade away with them.


PS1: Ramon Brugues Serra

"I was 8 years old when we had to flee. My mother died when I was 4, so I, with my brothers and sisters we lived with my aunt in Figueres. My father was with the Republicans. When the Civil War started, my aunt decided we should move to France. We were on the road, walking together with thousands of people. The sides of the roads were full with things left behind. There was a dead horse on the road and people were fighting to get a piece of it. To eat, to survive. We were so hungry.

We arrived to La Portuz and took a train to Montpelier, where our uncle was expecting us. But the train never stopped and we arrived to a very cold place with lots of mountains. They put us in a big house with iron bars on the doors and windows. We were desperate. We tried everything to contact our family. Some of the people managed to slip in and out of the place, and contacted our uncle, who was searching for us. He came to Grenoble and took us to Montpelier. We were finally safe with family in France. We were lucky. Not everyone was though.

After few months, it was safe to come back to Figueres. Our uncle and aunt took us from Montpelier to the border with Spain. We had to walk back towards home, on the same mountain road that we had taken to escape before. The smell of war and fire was still in the air. The local Ford shop was still in flames. Our house was robbed many times, but it was still there. But my father was not. He was taken to prison by the forces of Franco. Even when he got out he had to travel to a nearby town to check in with the police every week, and often he was beaten because he was one of the “Rojos” [Red; political opponents]. He could never go to France, because he was a Republican.”


PS2: The father of Ramon’s wife

"I am a blacksmith. When I was arrested and put to prison by the Franco regime, they asked me to repair iron objects like tools, bars, guns. I saw so many horrible destinies inside. Like the one of the man kept locked up in the toilet. His misfortune was greater than ours. All he had was a dirty toilet and a wet mattress they gave for the night. He couldn’t bear the torture and the abuse. He had to end it by himself, smashing his head against the only object he had before him, the toilet.

Somehow I don’t see such stories written in history. They just fade away together with us, the witnesses.”

PS3: Xavier Diez, speaking about his friend Joan


"Joan had a good life, a normal life, like it would appear. When he came back to France he was not speaking Spanish. He studied in France and his family was speaking Catalan. He only came back to Spain because doing the military service in France in that time meant going to the war in Algeria. And he was born in war, in exile, in the Maternity of Elma, because his mother was pregnant with him when her and his father had flee to France.

In Spain, he arrived in sad, poor and depressing times. Despite the circumstances he still managed to live a normal, middle class life: he worked for Nestle, he got married, had two children. But you could always sense the trauma he lived through in his youth. His insecurity was giving it away. He was not belonging to France nor to Spain. One could see it in simple things, like how he was trying to show off his car, or his house, what he has, the material side. You could see the elements of trauma, of what he lived through, despite the normal ordinary life he had here.”


PS4: Xavier Diez, speaking about the brother of his grandmother

"The brother of my grandmother was an anarchist leader. He exiled to France once the war broke out. From France he somehow got to the United State, in Detroit. He was a mechanic, so he started working for the Ford factory there. He progressed a lot in his life, he had money, and big expectations when he came back to Spain in the 60ties. He started working as a commercial representative of Ford in Spain, but the depressing atmosphere and the level of poverty was very traumatic for him. I never met him, because he died before I was born.”


PS5: Postcard in MUME

 “Maria, this painting represents the sunset of the day in the camp, the hopelessness next to the barbed wire. Write soon, many days passed without a word from you , one month. Greetings from your friend.”


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