Refugees, International Experts, and Locals Come Together in Serbia
Around 920,000 refugees and migrants, mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, passed through Serbia to get to Central Europe during the critical period between 2015 and 2016. Today, 4,146 refugees remain stranded in Serbia.
The government has 18 sites to house refugees, including many unaccompanied minors, but Serbia has received much criticism for its response to this crisis. The situation inspired the eighth Mikser Festival, as organizers desperately searched for a way to help integrate refugees into the community.
“We are located one minute away from the biggest regional railway station, so the area was flocked with refugees. We simply could not go with the programs, neglecting that you have to jump over people to get to work. So, we decided to do something,” said Maja Lalić, Mikser House’s creative director.
They considered ways to integrate and include refugees into Serbian society but had to realize that there are many other unresolved issues in its society.
Mikser House is a nongovernmental organization based in Belgrade that focuses on bringing different people together to improve the community with creative solutions. It began looking at the refugee crisis as an opportunity to help people. They considered ways to integrate and include refugees into Serbian society but had to realize that there are many other unresolved issues in its society. Many other groups feel rejected, abandoned, and unrecognized — and that too needed to be addressed.
To bring these issues to the forefront, Mikser Festival 2016 focused on the idea of “Sensitive Society,” an event specifically designed to address societal issues with gender equality, the refugee crisis, and the exchange of knowledge and ideas. The festival was partially funded by a grant from the Balkan Trust for Democracy (BTD).
“The aim is to raise awareness about people in need, not only refugees, but all vulnerable groups,” said BTD Program Coordinator Tijana Kljajević. “By organizing various events and services and by selling hand made products, they reach self-sustainability. We can improve local communities and help refugees and other vulnerable groups to become providers, not only aid receivers.”
Over 50,000 people flocked from all parts of the city to attend the festival over several days. Designers, experts, businesses, media, and manufacturers worked side by side with refugees, women, and other vulnerable groups and community members to come up with compassionate solutions to some of the issues present in Serbian society.
Different groups interacted and learned from each other during the many workshops held during the event. In one case, 300 Serbian girls lined up to get henna tattoos from a refugee. In another, refugees taught local people how to make traditional Middle Eastern jewelry.
“We use the festival as a meeting place among all different local groups and walks of life,” said Lalić. “The multidisciplinary approach makes a difference — it improves the quality of a project.”
The conference is also a good way for local groups to collaborate with internationally renowned experts and businesses. In 2016, Mikser House invited experts from different fields to share their experience with local groups, and to brainstorm ways that the shared ideas could be implemented locally. Some architects, for example, volunteered to help with refugee resettlement after these discussions.
The work continues today via the festival’s digital platform, where participants remain in contact with each other. International visitors to the festival have now invited some Belgrade locals to work on other projects.
Mikser Festival 2017’s theme “Migration” reinvigorated the discussions that were sparked in 2016. The refugee crisis inspired this year’s festival, and participants sought to examine how digital technology can create opportunities for integration, education, and entrepreneurship in the refugee community. BTD supported the festival, which featured documentary screenings, a creative camp for youth, and discussions on different societal issues.
The 2018 festival will be the tenth anniversary, and Lalić hopes BTD will continue to support the program. Lalić said Mikser Foundation wants to address “flaming issues in contemporary societies,” like increasing community involvement, creating multicultural environments, and integrating different social groups.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.