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Serbia: Refugee and Migrant Library

Mainstream rhetoric conveys notions to refugee aid providers that all refugees and migrants need are food, clothing, and shelter. Because of this, a substantial amount of funding directly targets acquiring clothing donations, food distribution, and the running of refugee camps. While the need for these services were critical in the beginning stages of the refugee crisis and during the winter months, aid continues to disproportionately stream into these areas while leaving enrichment activities and basic education behind. For people forcibly displaced from their home countries, being surrounded by the Serbian language and script can be difficult and confusing. Having access to books in their native tongue would provide considerable comfort while waiting for asylum. In particular, aid groups have difficulty finding activities for female refugees that stay within the bounds of cultural norms.

This project will create a library for refugees and migrants in transit in Belgrade, Serbia coming from war-torn and underdeveloped countries. Currently, around 1,500 to 2,000 Urdu speaking refugees and migrants from Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2,500-3,000 Farsi speaking refugees from Afghanistan and Iran, and 1,400 from Syria and other Middle East countries are stranded in transit in Serbia, attempting to find safety and security in Europe. In conversations, Jasmine discovered that many refugees requested access to reading material to expand their knowledge as they wait for their name to be accepted for various asylum enabling lists. Alongside their European language classes here in Belgrade, many refugees crave to fill their abundant free time with continued basic education while waiting for their refugee and migrant applications to be processed. With a grant from the Critical Language Scholarship Alumni Fund and help from on-the-ground activists in Pakistan, Jasmine was able to collect a number of books for refugee enrichment and learning in the Urdu language. With a successful GoFundMe page, Jasmine funded the shipping of the cargo from Pakistan to Serbia. The Awesome Foundation funding will add Pashto, Farsi, and Arabic language material to the library. With the availability of this material, Syrian refugees (who mainly live in refugee camps scattered throughout Serbia) and Afghani refugees and migrants who don’t speak Urdu will have access to reading material as well. Reading material includes textbooks, non-fiction books, poetry, novels, children’s books, and beginner script books for teaching language. Books will be purchased from bookstores in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.

The library will be maintained by the Education Center in downtown Belgrade and managed by the local NGOs Refugee Aid Serbia and North Star. This open library will be accessible to all refugees and migrants in Serbia.

A webpage and social media presence, with bookstore contacts details, will highlight the libraries creation process in order to inspire similar projects in countries receiving refugees and migrants. {forthcoming}

What our grantee has to say:

“Aid culture praises projects that can report immediate results, such as numbers of refugees housed, clothed, or fed in a given month due to their funding. Education and enrichment from a library is more difficult to measure. I plan for this library to set an example for similar projects along the refugee path and in refugee camps. Through spreading positive impact anecdotes about refugee and migrants in this particular library on social media, aid culture as a whole can slowly shift to respond to real-time on the ground needs. More libraries and enrichment courses can be proposed and funded.

I'm so grateful for the Innovation in Libraries AF Chapter for providing the resources to expand the refugee and migrant library in Belgrade, Serbia to include literature in Farsi, Pashto and Arabic. The grant will positively influence thousands of people enduring the treacherous journey from conflict stricken and opportunity deprived regions. Sustainable educational and enrichment efforts are crucial to making aid well-rounded. I hope this library inspires more of its kind throughout the refugee and migrant route to Europe." - Jasmine Passa, Fulbright Scholar, Niš, Serbia

What our trustees have to say:

“I find this to be quite relevant...and a creative way of addressing language barriers faced by refugees.”

“This project is sustainable and has far-reaching results for the refugees and migrants who draw from it. It will be possible to maintain beyond the grant applicant's time in Serbia and will continue to provide resources for its community.”

“This project showed a practical pathway forward to benefit a very real challenge facing the global community. Many studies have demonstrated the huge detrimental impact of the extended boredom and isolation refugees experience. The application showed a considered idea, including ideas of how the project would be maintained and shared.”

Funded by Innovation in Libraries (April 2017)