Fresh Response is an independent volunteer organisation providing humanitarian support to refugees and migrants, founded in Subotica, Serbia in Summer 2016. Since November 2019, we have been based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as an emergency cold weather response to the large numbers of people sleeping outside of the over-crowded camps.
We currently estimate the population living outside of camps in unstable accommodation to be 400-500. This includes people living in abandoned houses, on the streets or in crowded basic hotels; to cover this cost, many people resort to begging or selling items on the streets. Our aim is to provide a small amount of comfort by giving items like a sleeping bag, a blanket or a warm jacket. We also provide information and create referral pathways to help people access medical support and washing and hygiene facilities.
We began in Serbia as an ad-hoc response with the aim of improving the quality of life of people stuck within the official camp system, supplementing inadequate food rations with fresh and nutritious ingredients sourced from local suppliers. With dignity and agency, people could prepare meals they wanted for themselves and their families.
The needs and gaps in this area rapidly expanded starting in October of 2016, as a result of dropping temperatures and the coldest winter in recent history. This coincided with a drop in support from all official institutions on the ground, after a state-issued letter prohibiting humanitarian aid to people outside the overcrowded official camp system. At the time, this meant over 2,000 people sleeping rough outdoors no longer received aid from other organisations. As the only independent project in the area, we continued supporting and started to focus on this increasingly marginalised and vulnerable population.
Being independently funded and non-bureaucratic means we have always been able to adapt our activities quickly to meet the constantly changing situation and needs. Beyond food, we have expanded to cover other basic unmet needs: drinking water, clothing, blankets, firewood, camping and shelter kits, mobile showers, hygiene, medical referrals, and advocacy.
Throughout everything we do, we strive to be a warm and welcoming presence on the long road to Europe.
Cover photo courtesy of Mateusz Skwarczek