Collective Aid is run by a flexible core team of long-term volunteers, supported by a dynamic and ever-changing group of short-term volunteers from all around the globe. All of us are committed to bring dignity and care to refugees and other displaced people across the Balkans.
Our lasting mission is to observe and act, to always be ready to fill the gaps left by other aid actors, to collaborate with anyone who shares our aim of making life better for people living as refugees in the Balkans; but most importantly: to always work in solidarity and respect.
Collective Aid was established in early 2017. Originally under the name BelgrAid, it was founded in response to the changing needs of refugees and migrants in Serbia.
As part of the Balkan Route (opening in 2012 after the EU eased visa conditions towards Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro) Serbia experienced over 130.000 refugees and migrants crossing through the country each year. However, with the fortification of the Hungarian border in 2015 and a general rise of tension related to the unfolding crisis, circumstances changed. In March 2016 the borders of Slovenia, Macedonia and Croatia closed, marking the official end of the Balkan route and therefore causing thousands of people to become stuck in Greece and Serbia.
While hoping for the reopening of the borders, refugees and migrants sought shelter in squats and abandoned buildings throughout the country. It was during this time that Collective Aid was formed in order to channel the independent efforts attempting to help residents of the Belgrade Barracks. Handing out both food and non-food-items such as blankets and clothing, the goal was to cater for the most basic needs of people living on the streets. Our efforts quickly amounted to the distribution of 2000 meals per day and established the organisation as one of the key actors in local efforts to bring relief to displaced people stuck in Serbia. As the country’s response to the crisis became more structured, so did the assistance refugees and migrants were able to receive. After the establishment of formal settlements and camps, Collective Aid partnered with Oxfam Italia to continue cooking for the Obrenovac Transit Center. Between June 2017 and September 2018, we provided daily lunch for around 500-900 center residents.
Being a tightly structured and completely volunteer run organisation allows us to operate with a certain degree of flexibility. Using the knowledge we have gained in Serbia, Collective Aid has therefore expanded its efforts to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
With refugees and migrants trying to progress along the “New Balkan Route”, the country has seen an increasing influx of people trying to enter and make their way over the Croatian border to the north. Similar to our original response in Belgrade, we have been providing meals to the refugees and migrants living on the streets since the summer of 2018. In October 2018, a new refugee camp opened near Sarajevo. We were invited to work there for a short-term contract. From our previous experience, we knew how to design, set up and staff a camp kitchen. Since October 2018 until April 2019, we distributed 3 meals per day for 700 to 800 refugees. In a same time we helped opening the first “Free shop” in the camp. We are now, helping to run the Free shop, by sorting, folding and organizing clothes. As soon as the camp gets full, we will be ready to distribute food in the street as we did before.
Meanwhile in Serbia, after having served over 325.000 meals, our kitchen project has come to an end as of October 2018. With all the necessary structures in place, Collective Aid has handed this responsibility over to a local catering company. That said, our work in Serbia is far from finished! With winter approaching and crossing the borders becoming more difficult, we are now focused on promoting better mental health and wellbeing through our newly opened Azadi Community Center in Obrenovac. Expanding on our past involvement running games and activities every day after serving lunch in camp, we are now able to offer language classes and a range of workshops in a peaceful and positive space. This allows us not just to provide some sense of distraction, but also to enable personal growth and the experience of personal progress.
It’s difficult to tell what the future of Europe’s migration problem looks like, we are navigating an ever-changing political landscape and an unforeseeable number of people in need in the coming months and years. Collective Aid will continue to provide aid and support to displaced people in the Balkans, for as long as we are needed.
Collective Aid is entirely volunteer-run. Since our founding in 2017 we have welcomed over 500 passionate and committed volunteers from all over the world. A core team of dedicated long-term volunteers manages our projects including the kitchen, the Azadi Community Center, our warehouse, the NFI distributions and our camp activities.
Get in touch with us
Have any questions? Would like to get more details on our work, the projects we have or how we make it all happen? Send us an email!