Abstract By following the transformation of one center in Belgrade, Serbia, the article gives a focused insight into the broader transformations connected to humanitarian aid and migration response that took place in the aftermath of 2015. Three modes of response to migration, which are sometimes intertwined, have shaped phases in the development of the Miksalište center: voluntarism, professionalization and re-statization. The end and the beginning of each phase have been marked by some changes in migration management as well as by changes in the modes of funding. The purpose of this paper is to unriddle the complicated relationships among categories of actors, the dominant modes of response to migration movements, the wider modes of migration governance, as well as migration-related policy and local contexts with a micro-level analysis.
Keywords Refugee aid, voluntarism, professionalization, NGO, re-statization
During the »long migration summer of 2015« (Milan/Pirro 2018), »over 1000 of migrants per day« were transiting from Turkey to the countries of Central and Western Europe (European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations 2015: 5). Since the 1990’s, when hundreds of thousands of refugees from former Yugoslav republics arrived in Serbia, forced migration has not been a widely represented topic in the Serbian media and public. In 2015, this issue was brought forward, and many initiatives appeared to support the transit movements through Serbia. One of these initiatives, the ›Miksalište‹, a center for people on the move coming mostly from the Middle East and Africa, was established as a citizen and volunteer-based point which provided food and non-food items for refugees in transit in Belgrade in August 2015. After a while, the center began to be managed by a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) providing various services. Today, it is a ›one stop point‹ run by the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration Republic of Serbia (CRM), the central state body in charge of reception and migration management, with a few NGOs involved. I myself was involved in many aspects of the center’s work. My insider position, academic background, and interests opened up a space for reflection about the changes of Miksalište.
I will analyze the case of Miksalište to demonstrate how the changes in Serbian migration policy in the context of the post-2015 EU border regime influenced the work and orientation of non-governmental and governmental organizations in Belgrade. Changes in the functioning and funding of Miksalište are understood as a reflection of broader changes in migration movements’ management and migration governance. Changes occurred periodically and the paper is structured according to these periods.
This paper is thus an attempt to unriddle the complicated relationship among categories of actors, the dominant modes of response to migration movements, the modes of migration governance, as well as migration-related policy and local contexts with a micro-level analysis of the transformation of Miksalište. The categories of actors participating in responses to migration movement are determined by a conceptual difference in regard to government organizations (GOs), civil society organizations (CSOs), NGOs, humanitarian organizations (HOs), volunteer groups, and social movements.
Three phases in the development of the Miksalište center have been identified, based on dominant modes of migration response: voluntarism, professionalization, and re-statization. Voluntarism is here understood as engagement, motivated by the need to help and »marked apart from remunerated or waged labour« (Malkki 2015: 108). Professionalization refers to a process of transformation of volunteer-based structures and activities into salaried aid work (see Sapoch 2018: 112). Re-statization represents an institutional incorporation of non-governmental migration-related structures into governmental structures (see Agrela/Dietz 2006: 220-221). All three phases analyzed in this paper are entangled, both conceptually and practically, with the concept of humanitarianism (Andersson 2017; Fassin 2007; Perkowski 2018; Sandri 2018), understood here as a more or less institutionalized form of moral action aiming to alleviate world suffering through various actions and missions (see Fassin 2007: 151). It will be shown how phases in the history of Miksalište developed and interfered and asked, what their main features and actors were, how they interrelated, and which issues they brought forward. However, the need to alleviate the »basic human suffering« (Malkki 2015: 6) through citizen volunteering also masks the deeply neoliberal process in which people have to »rely on compassion and goodwill of other people« (Brković 2016: 98–99) instead of state-provided forms of care.
Framed as a case study research, and by using an autoethnographic participatory approach,1 I will interpret the developments in Miksalište as an externalization of EU migration control to third countries (Beznec/Speer/Stojić Mitrović 2016; Casas-Cortes/Cobarrubias/Pickles 2015; Hameršak/Pleše 2018; Kallius 2016; Stojić Mitrović 2014; Stojić Mitrović 2019; Stojić Mitrović/Vilenica 2019; Tsianos/Karakayali 2010). One of the main arguments of the externalization thesis is that borders are not merely physical boundaries between nation-states, but are rather externalized and produced beyond the European Union territory, and that these all-pervading borders create pressure on other non-EU states. Agreements, treaties, and various migration policy documents are tools for the externalization of borders that consolidate legal fences (see Hameršak/Pleše 2018: 13; Kallius 2016: 135). However, some scholars have warned about a possible reductionism, if ›externalization‹ is merely understood as a linear and top-down process (see Heck/Hess 2017: 39). In order to prevent reductionism in externalization theory, authors suggest to focus on struggles, challenges, disruptions, autonomous migration practices and movements by understanding them as creative forces (see Casas-Cortes/Cobarrubias/Pickles 2015: 898; Stojić Mitrović/Vilenica 2019: 14; Tsianos/Karakayali 2010: 386). Exactly the struggles, negotiations, and interactions of actors occupying different power positions in time will just as much be the focus of the text as the effects these had on the center in downtown Belgrade.
Migration and Border Policy in Post-Socialist Serbia in the Context of the EU-Accession Process
Right after the Slobodan Milošević regime was overturned in 2000 within the EU-framework of the ›Stabilization and Association Process‹,2 Serbia initiated the accession process to the EU. Within this framework, Serbia is obliged to apply EU legislation, including migration-related policies defined by the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). Serbia was identified as a potential candidate for EU membership in 2003, the priorities for the country’s membership application were set through the European partnership for Serbia in 2008, the status of EU candidate was granted in March 2012, and the formal start of the accession negotiations took place at the ›First Accession Conference‹ with Serbia in Brussels, January 2014 (European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations 2019).3 In order to harmonize legislation with EU regulations, the Law on asylum was adopted in April 2007. The adoption of this law marked the beginning of the independent asylum system in Serbia, making the Asylum Office of the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Serbia (instead of UNHCR) responsible for asylum applications (see Stojić Mitrović 2014: 1110). Accordingly, the externalization of EU borders is closely related to the process of harmonizing national asylum policies with EU regulations.
The EU accession process is a much deeper socio-political issue in Serbia, and it is not limited to asylum, migration, and border policies. Aid provision, as a wider mode of response to migration, offered by multiple actors in Serbia needs to be analyzed within the post-war, post-socialist, and neoliberal context of EU integration (Greenberg/Spasić 2017; Helms 2014; Mikuš 2018). During the civil wars in the process of The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia breakup, many refugees from Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo arrived and remained in Serbia (Lažetić 2018: 143). The 1990’s experience of conflict-related migration in Serbia is certainly shaping representations about present-day migration movements that include people coming mostly from the Middle East and Africa. Institutions and actors that provide aid, protection, and services have a special significance in the framework of welfare restructuring. In this regard, »the transfer of welfare functions to various nonstate actors« has to be understood as part of a wider »neoliberal logic of (welfare) state transformation« (Mikuš 2018: 175) within which humanitarian aid and protection offered by the civil society emerge as an alternative to previous forms of state-provided care and social services. Furthermore, »the narrative of Europeanization«, as Mikuš writes, has become »firmly entangled with the scheme of transition« (ibid.: 84), not only in terms of migration and border policy but also in terms of actors or structures responsible for care, aid, and service provision.
Modes of Response and Involved Actors
The opposition ›nongovernmental versus governmental actors‹ (Agrela/Dietz 2006) is rarely questioned and often taken for granted. While the notion of civil society may include many kinds of actors with different ideological backgrounds and positions, »in its dominant native sense in Serbia, civil society refers to the sector of liberal and pro-Western NGOs that are nominally separate from the state, party politics and business« (Mikuš 2018: 4), and »associated with foreign funding« (Helms 2014: 27). Here, it will be demonstrated that the GOs in Serbia also depend on foreign funding. There is also a growing recognition in literature that NGOs constitute only one part of civil society (see Mikuš 2018: 7) and that the category of civil society should not be reduced to ›Western-funded‹ NGOs. NGOs are usually non-profit organizations and they always have a specific aim, vision, and mission. It is also important to note that an ›NGO‹ does not exist as a separate legal category, and that these groups are registered in Serbian Business Registers Agency as ›associations‹ or ›foundations‹, like in the case of Bosnia (see Helms 2014: 27).
Humanitarian organizations are active in refugee assistance worldwide, and they are understood as »a specific form of NGO« that act under the principles of »humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence« (Müller-Stewens et al. 2019: 2). Powerful international NGOs (INGOs) constitute a »humanitarian government« that administrate people »in a name of higher moral principle« to preserve life and alleviate suffering (Fassin 2007: 151). In Serbia, local NGOs are partially funded by INGOs and international governmental organizations (IGOs). These groups are associated with (but not limited to) the notion of ›humanitarianism‹ as a mode of governance (ibid.; Perkowski 2018). In this article, professionalized humanitarianism is interpreted as a structured mode of action, where involved actors who provide aid are professionals employed in NGOs. This mode of governance is identified as prevalent in the second phase of Miksalište’s history.
Social movements are less formalized than NGOs, and they usually function without payrolls and employees. Social movements often emphasize that they act in the name of ›solidarity‹, understood as a horizontal structure, and they oppose notions and practices of humanitarianism and ›charity‹, which are considered as vertical, top-down structures (see Birey et al. 2019: 11; Sapoch 2018: 70). In Serbia, participating in these kind of social movements is often considered as »activism« (see Greenberg/Spasić 2017: 318). Less structured volunteer and citizen groups working without clear political or activist agenda have also been involved in migration response in Serbia (cf. Brković 2016). The first phase of Miksalište’s history more or less fits into the concepts of »volunteer humanitarianism« (Sandri 2018: 2) as activist humanitarian help, »everyday humanitarianism« (Brković 2016), and ›voluntarism‹ as a more general type of unsalaried engagement.
GOs are included in the state or public system, and they are considered to be the most official and formalized structures of governance. GOs related to social, migration, and border policy are considered within the framework of this paper. The increased role of state actors in regulating and controlling migration is understood as a particular manifestation of a securitarian turn within the EU border regime (Stojić Mitrović/Vilenica 2019). GOs nominally stand in opposition to above-mentioned actors. However, in examining the »supposedly self-evident distinction between states and humanitarians« (Fassin 2007: 150) or »non-governmental versus governmental actors« (Agrela/Dietz 2006: 205), authors have suggested that »the frontier of the state and civil society« appears as a »mobile and permeable socially constructed boundary« (Mikuš 2018: 142). This argument will be used to support the here presented analysis of the funding modes of government-provided migration assistance. In the third phase, when Miksalište as a coalition of NGOs became ›re-statized‹, GOs acquired the dominant role.
The different modes of response to migration movements as well as the involved actors should not be interpreted as absolute, static, and mutually exclusive. This paper is rather an attempt to show how certain macro-processes have an effect on the micro-level, and how dominant modes of response to migration movements could be divided into phases in the case of Miksalište. Moreover, more changes regarding the center’s function could appear in the future.
Voluntarism: ›Old Miksalište‹
In summer 2015, a large number of refugees coming mostly from the Middle East and Africa were transiting to Schengen countries, and migration movements in Belgrade became more visible (see Beznec/Speer/Stojić Mitrović 2016: 4). Shortly after, these movements were channeled through the formalized corridor (frequently called the Balkan route), which made a swift transport of people from one state to another easier (see ibid.: 61). On 5 August, ›Mikser house‹, a private cultural center and club in the Savamala area in Belgrade, and NGOs, called for ad hoc humanitarian action, inviting people to donate clothing and hygienic items for refugees. Three days later, ›Refugee Aid Miksalište‹ was officially opened behind the Mikser house. Mikser house was located in Karađorđeva 46 and Refugee Aid Miksalište in Mostarska 5 (hereafter ›Old Miksalište‹ because a new center called ›Miksalište 2.0‹ was opened later at another address in different capacity). Citizens of Belgrade responded to the call and brought clothes, shoes, hygiene items, food, and water to the newly opened center. A lot of locals from the Savamala area and Belgrade in general as well as foreigners, often »young people travelling around the Balkans who would stop after being emotionally affected by the plight of refugees in Serbia« (Milan/Pirro 2018: 144), started volunteering to distribute the collected aid. Old Miksalište was operating during the fall and winter of 2015/2016. The space was a half open-air site with stands for distribution, mobile showers, toilets, medical help etc. It was the first regular aid distribution in Belgrade (see Beznec/Speer/Stojić Mitrović 2016: 43). Gradually, international and local NGOs recognized the potential of this space and started to participate with projects, activities, and funding. Many solidarity actors, both grassroots groups and NGOs, reacted to help people in need (see Milan/Pirro 2018: 131).
The ›emergency response‹ by these solidarity actors was recognized by Serbian officials (see Stojić Mitrović 2019: 20). In this period, the Serbian government formed the Working Group for Solving Problems of Mixed Migration Flows (Working Group for Migration), and the following reception centers were opened to accommodate refugees: RC Preševo, RC Adaševci, RC Šid, RC Principovac, and RC Subotica (CRMRS 2019). Politicians expressed their support of citizen volunteers in the media, and they praised their efforts to help the refugees. The most frequent representations in Serbian media were the narratives about the ›refugee crisis‹ and the kindness and hospitality of the Serbian society (see Galijaš 2019: 101). At the same time, Hungary was constructing a physical fence on its border to Serbia (see Beznec/Speer/Stojić Mitrović 2016: 55) and preparing the ground for more restrictive legal fences (see Kallius 2016: 135).
The driving forces of Old Miksalište were local citizens and international volunteers. They did most of the organization themselves, but also physical and practical work. More than 1200 volunteers from 60 different countries helped in some way during this first phase of Miksalište (WYSTC 2016). The intersection of local and international volunteers was facilitated due to the fact that there were many hostels in the Savamala area and parks where migrants were gathering. Many international volunteers stayed for several weeks in these hostels close to the local parks. Local CSOs, such as ›Ana and Vlade Divac foundation‹ (a humanitarian organization) and ›Initiative for Development and Cooperation – IDC‹ (a local branch of an international volunteer organization), were helping by bringing their volunteers to distribute aid. Students also got involved in order to do research or internships for their college or university (volunteer-researchers, internship volunteers). International, humanitarian, and more professionalized organizations, such as Médecins Sans Frontières and Save the Children, were also present with installed facilities and offered services and aid.
In early fall 2015, one group of international volunteers separated and became ›Refugee Aid Serbia‹, because of the tensions that existed among some individuals and disagreements about the way in which work and available resources should be organized. In the very beginning of this phase of voluntarism, the divisions between different groups or organizations did not exist, or they were at least not so important. As new funds came in, many of these informal groups became professionalized. Former volunteers, sometimes with no prior experience in humanitarian aid (see Milan/Pirro 2018: 144), showed good managing skills, acquired social capital, and became in charge of the organization.
Voluntarism was the main, but not the only, type of response in Old Miksalište. The aid work done by volunteers in Old Miksalište was free of charge. Within the ›refugee crisis‹ discourse created during the summer of 2015 in Belgrade, voluntarism emerged as »a reaction to the bureaucratic and at times slow procedures of aid agencies in emergency situations« (Sandri 2018: 10). The support to refugees in this period was »framed in emergency terms« (Stojić Mitrović 2019: 20) and focused on provision of food, medical aid, and non-food items for people transiting through the corridor. In this context, the ›emergency response‹ discourse was created and practiced.
As I mentioned above, different civil society actors were providing aid and were involved in the first phase (international and local volunteer groups, institutional and non-institutional). Participation of local volunteers and citizens was understood as »everyday humanitarianism« (Brković 2016), spurred on by significant and generally positive coverage of the so-called ›refugee crisis‹ in Serbian media, which awakened empathy towards people in trouble. Also, the participation of volunteers from »60 different countries« (WYSTC 2016), who stayed in Belgrade after being affected by the ›refugee crisis‹ narrative, could be conceptualized as »volunteer tourism« (Sin 2009). Volunteer tourism or voluntourism (not to be confused with voluntarism) is understood as »a form of tourism where the tourists volunteer in local communities as a part of his or her travel« (Sin 2009: 480). Of course, motivations for volunteer work and subcategories of volunteers are neither fixed nor one-dimensional. In reality, these motivations overlap and, thus, also these categories. In the following phase, a more professionalized form of humanitarianism was introduced.
Meanwhile, the so-called Balkan route underwent significant changes. After the first March of Hope in early September 2015, which was an organized attempt of migrants and activists to resist the asylum policies in Hungary, the Hungarian government started to implement more restrictive EU asylum legislations in order to block transit through their country, such as re-establishing Serbia as ›safe third country‹ (see Kallius 2016: 140). On 15 September 2015, Hungary closed the border to Serbia (see Hameršak/Pleše 2018: 10). Migrants redirected their movements to the Croatian border. On 8 March 2016, the borders along the corridor were officially closed (see Beznec/Speer/Stojić Mitrović 2016: 49), and ten days later, on 18 March 2016, the EU Commission together with Germany and Turkey introduced the »EU-Turkey deal« (see Heck/Hess 2017: 36).
Besides this cross-national migratory and border context, changes on the local level also had an impact on events that occurred in the Savamala area, where Miksalište is located. Namely, just a few hours after polls closed in the general (parliamentary) elections on 24 April 2016, and the ruling party (Serbian Progressive Party) won the majority of votes, masked men with baseball bats enforced the overnight demolition of several Savamala buildings that stood in the way of the Belgrade Waterfront project (see Delauney 2016; Greenberg/Spasić 2017: 322). The Belgrade Waterfront is a construction project that the Serbian government signed with Eagle Hills, a company from the United Arab Emirates, which includes the construction of luxury residential and office buildings, a hotel, a shopping mall, and other buildings along the Sava River. Also, the coordinators of Miksalište received an order from anonymous attorneys to move out in 48 hours. On 27 April 2016, Old Miksalište was demolished to make space for the Belgrade Waterfront (see Dragojlo 2016; Medić 2017: 47; Cantat 2019: 172). These three major shifts—the closing of the borders for transiting people on the move, the EU-Turkey deal, and the demolition of the Miksalište center in Mostarska street—opened a new chapter in the development of the Miksalište center.
Professionalization: ›Miksalište 2.0‹
Although there was no official center any more, in May 2016, the Miksalište team continued with the distribution of essential clothing and hygienic items and with organizing children’s activities in the ›Bristol‹ park, alongside other organizations present there, such as ›Info Park‹. At the same time, they were searching and preparing for a new location of the center. On 1 June 2016, the center was opened at a new location in Gavrila Principa 15, a street in the same area just around the parks (hereafter ›Miksalište 2.0‹). The object in Gavrila Principa is owned by Preduzeće Ivan Milutinović (PIM), a company famous in Yugoslavia for waterways engineering and construction, now in the process of restructuring (economic process related to privatization in Serbian context), which by coincidence is also the owner of the buildings of the ›Krnjača‹ Asylum Centre. PIM has been renting the facilities in Krnjača to the CRM since 1992 to accommodate Yugoslav IDPs, and has been doing the same for asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa since 2015 (see Galijaš 2019: 90). However, CRM did not sign the contract with PIM for the holding of Miksalište 2.0 until April 2019, in the third stage of the institutional biography of Miksalište center. From June 2016 to April 2019, Mikser house and its partner organization ›Mikser Association‹, which founded Miksalište center in the first place, were the contract holders.
Miksalište 2.0 was upgraded with several services. Many local and international NGOs implemented their projects in the new center. In July 2016, the center was temporarily closed because neighbors from surrounding buildings were complaining about the refugees. The center was reopened after one month. For the next four months, the center was very busy: the distribution of food and non-food items took place every day from 9am to 4pm.
During this period, the professionalization of volunteer-based NGOs working with refugees intensified. Professionalization was achieved both through employing local volunteers and transforming volunteer-based or grassroots groups into formal, registered, and structured NGOs. Employees of professional, non-profit humanitarian organizations could be called »aid workers«, »humanitarians«, or »emergency relief workers« (Malkki 2015: 30). As professional humanitarian organizations elsewhere, the employees of the refugee-assistance NGOs in Belgrade wear uniform, including the logo of the organization that they work for. At the time, newly employed volunteers generally perceived this change as positive, because they felt that they were finally rewarded for their efforts.
The main reason for professionalizing the Serbian NGOs involved in the distribution of aid and giving general support was access to grants (see Sapoch 2018: 117). As manifested so evidently today, the contemporary system of humanitarian aid depends on grants, donations, and projects. It has already been suggested elsewhere that »the management of humanitarian aid and assistance has gradually become the business of professionals« and that humanitarian organizations worldwide »are managed more like global private companies« (Müller-Stewens et al. 2019: 4). Local NGOs for refugee assistance in Miksalište (e.g. the Crisis Response and Policy Centre, The Center for Youth Integration, Novi Sad Humanitarian Center, Praxis, etc.) are financed mostly through INGOs and IGOs (e.g. International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, UN Refugee Agency, UN Women International Organization for Migration, Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, Save the Children, Danish Refugee Council), but are also funded by independent donations or other projects. The INGOs in turn are financed through large international funds. In 2015, 2016, and 2017, the main EU fund for refugee assistance in Serbia was the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) (The Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Serbia 2016). As for other types of NGOs in Serbia, the EU has been one of the biggest donors, which strongly favors established, large, and financially strong organizations because they are able to co-fund the projects (see Mikuš 2018: 101).
In November 2016, another important shift occurred that shaped the type of aid offered to refugees. As complaints from the host community increased and anti-immigrant petitions were created, GOs began to blame the NGOs for migrants not registering or staying in government provided centers (see Lažetić/Jovanović 2018: 10). The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs (hereafter Ministry of Labor) sent an open letter to NGOs operating in Serbia on 4 November 2016. With this letter, the NGOs were informed that all necessary assistance was available within the official reception centers, and, accordingly, assistance in the form of food, clothing, and footwear outside of the reception centers was no longer acceptable (see MS 2016). The staff of Miksalište was ordered to stop the distribution of food and non-food items. The distribution of breakfast and lunch was stopped immediately, and the distribution of clothes ceased a few days later. Any aid provision of materials was considered to be a ›pull factor‹ for refugees to stay outside the official centers. At this time, the Balkan corridor was not in function anymore, and migrants were forced to choose between three options: either cross the borders irregularly, go back to their countries of origin, or stay in the offered reception centers in Serbia. »Although the Open letter was not a formal piece of legislation, it came with important consequences for groups supporting migrants«, and »it reasserted state control« (Cantat 2019: 173) by giving the CRM a more dominant role in refugee aid.
The Open letter scared the staff and volunteers working at the center. Organizations assumed that they had to stop giving humanitarian aid to refugees. They feared to lose the status of an NGO (see ibid.: 173). Certain big organizations started to withdraw from Miksalište as they no longer saw an opportunity to help and redirected the funds towards NGOs working in reception centers. For me and other workers, it was hard to explain to refugees why they could no longer get food, shoes, jackets etc. Many of them stopped coming to Miksalište center because they could no longer get necessities, and the number of people coming on a daily basis drastically decreased. As I found out in conversations back then, many of them thought that humanitarian workers were simply hostile to them and did not want to help them anymore. Additionally, organizations whose main activity was aid distribution had to reinvent their programs and projects. As a result, one of the two barracks in Miksalište center was reconstructed into a classroom instead of a distribution stand. There were more social or occupational activities, such as language (English, German, Serbian, Italian, French, Farsi and Arabic) workshops, art classes, and games as well as ›psychosocial support‹ services.
In December 2016, in the process of reinvention, Miksalište started to work 24/7. The 24/7 reception service was supposed to compensate the rupture in distribution and to help in the process of registering newly arrived migrants. This practice is called ›legal aid‹ or sometimes ›protection‹ in NGO vocabulary. The services of ›legal aid‹ include informing refugees about the asylum system in Serbia, escorting migrants to the police station for registration, and contributing to the asylum granting process. NGOs providing legal aid services were present in Miksalište center before this shift, but, from December 2016 onwards, their role increased. The asylum office, an organizational unit of the Ministry of the Interior, is responsible for the registration and asylum procedure. NGOs cannot register newly arrived migrants, but they identify unregistered people and refer them to the police station, where they are registered by the Asylum office. A new rule was established then: only registered migrants who belonged to ›vulnerable groups‹ (women, families with small children, unaccompanied minors, and injured people) and were waiting to be transferred to a reception center could spend the night and sleep in Miksalište center. The NGO staff worked at the center during the night.
With the example of NGO services, such as legal aid and protection, one can achieve awareness for the complex relationship between humanitarianism, human rights, and security (see Perkowski 2018: 466). Governmental and non-governmental organizations regularly interfere with one another in this context (see Fassin 2007: 155). In this case, NGOs actually help the government to do their job and register newly arrived migrants. An issue that is often addressed by humanitarian organizations is the protection of ›human rights‹ of those who are vulnerable in which NGOs tread on thin ice in balancing between humanitarianism and securitization. By insisting on vulnerability, NGOs do not only identify and divide individuals into »victims in need« and »others« (Perkowski 2018: 468), but they also, unwillingly, further confirm the security norms. While the humanitarian-security nexus is more evident in organizations that levitate between militarization and humanitarianism in their operations at borders, such as Frontex (see Andersson 2017; Perkowski 2018), the nexus may also be recognized in the work of NGOs that advocate for the protection of ›vulnerable‹ people (e.g. unaccompanied minors or single women) in opposition to those deemed not ›vulnerable enough‹. The dualism between »deserving« and »non deserving« (Sales 2002, quoted in Fassin 2005: 377) is the ultimate outcome of imposing a criteria of vulnerability to refugee aid.
In the beginning of 2017, around 2000 refugee men were living in the ›barracks‹, which were presented in international media as a »Serbian Calais« (MacDowall/Graham-Harrison 2017; Sapoch 2018). The ›barracks‹ is a colloquial term for a large site composed of several connected dilapidated warehouses behind the Belgrade railway station. Harsh winter conditions at the beginning of 2017 created hazards for refugees living outdoors, in the barracks, or non-weatherized shelters, making them vulnerable and in need of protection from the perspective of people providing aid, while, at the same time, refugees were perceived as a ›threat‹ by right-wing groups. Government officials were concerned about health and security issues. Media reports on fights and robberies involving migrants and local smugglers increased, which made the local population nervous (see Lažetić/Jovanović 2018: 9-10).
In April 2017, a group of students from the Faculty of Economics announced a protest against the migrants in the park in front of the faculty. This was odd, because migrants had been present in the park in front of the Faculty of Economics for two years, and there were no complaints from students thus far. The protest was canceled in the end, but the cancelation did not stop the impact of this campaign to induce a negative perception of refugees living in the barracks on the side of the local population. Several days later, a group of Savamala residents organized a protest against the refugees using right-wing rhetoric, and they clashed with a local antifa group that showed up to counter the protest. The group of locals who wrote an anti-immigrant petition also got involved in the organization of the protests.4 Some members of the protesting group live in a building next to the Miksalište center. In 2018, tenants even organized themselves to build an actual metal fence between their building and Miksalište in order to prevent contact with migrants. The construction of the metal fence in the Savamala neighborhood was very symbolic and showed how EU border policies materialized and stretched from the external borders to internal and local ones (cf. e.g. Kallius 2017: 19).
The government responded to the increase in numbers of ›stuck‹ refugees living outdoors and in the barracks by investing in a new reception center in Obrenovac near Belgrade. The new reception center in Obrenovac was an old military quarter, reconstructed into a reception center. The transformation of military camps into »humanitarian sanctuaries« (Agier 2002: 319) is a practice documented worldwide. Another response to the barracks situation was a discreet permission of the government to Oxfam, to implement an emergency relief project distributing winter clothes and sleeping bags that was performed ›under wraps‹ and in despite of the aid distribution ban. This connivance can be understood both as a temporary rupture in the re-statization of humanitarian aid and a continuation of humanitarian-security logics (see Kallius 2016; Perkowski 2018; Petrović 2018).
Activists, international volunteer-based groups, and social movements using the rhetoric of ›migrant solidarity‹ also started distributing aid in the barracks (e.g. No Name Kitchen, Hot Food Idomeni, Help-Na, BelgrAid etc.) and »broke the governmental order not to help« (Cantat 2019: 175). However, narratives that interpret the Open letter only within the framework of the »criminalisation of solidarity« (ibid.: 171) and tend to equate solidarity with aid distribution have certain limits. The barracks, located around ten minutes away from Miksalište center, definitely was »a space of struggles« (ibid.: 184) for all sorts of actors involved in migration movement response. These struggles included migrants’ hunger strikes as well as clashes between GOs, NGOs, and volunteer-based organizations. The final outcome of this »recursive and cross-hatched mix of institutions and people« (Greenberg/Spasić 2017: 322; see also Cantat 2019: 174; Sapoch 2018: 56) were relocations of migrants to reception centers all over Serbia with the help of CRM and the eviction of the barracks in May 2017. The dominant motive behind the demolition of these informal settlements of migrants in the Belgrade city center was, as stated above, the construction of luxury buildings as part of the Belgrade Waterfront project (see Lažetić/Jovanović 2018: 10).
In June 2017, the Mikser house cultural center and the club in Karađorđeva street, which founded Old Miksalište and continued to be the coordinating body of Miksalište 2.0, was closed. The closure of Mikser house was the result of »conflicting top-down business interests« (Medić 2017: 53) expressed by local real-estate owners who wanted to build more up-scale clubs and restaurants on the location. The closure was important for the way the Miksalište center operated because, up until June 2017, most of the costs (monthly bills and rent) of Miksalište were covered by the Mikser house owners and modest financial aid from some other NGOs. By closing down the cultural center, organizations within Miksalište found themselves in another situation of reconstruction. All NGOs inside the center were asked to contribute financially. The solution was to create a ›Memorandum of Understanding‹ with precisely defined duties of each organization within this space that formalized Miksalište 2.0 as ›a coalition of NGOs‹. CRM did not provide any kind of financial support at this point, but rather only wrote a ›letter of support‹, which was sent to major donors. This letter explained how Miksalište center was one of the most important places for refugee aid in Serbia. At this moment of crisis, the INGO Save the Children was covering most of the costs. Eventually, the financial gaps were covered by several international organizations, and Miksalište survived. One of the problems was that the owner of the space, the previously mentioned company PIM, due to legal and economic difficulties, agreed to only sign a contract for a year. A one-year contract with the owner of the space was an obstacle for many donors and organizations to invest. INGOs feared that their investment would not pay off, if the space were used for something else after the one-year contract had expired.
The status of Miksalište as a professionalized coalition of NGOs was reinforced by the creation of the Memorandum of Understanding, but, shortly after, it was shaken again. The end of the professionalization phase is marked by the withdrawal of the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department (ECHO), the main source of humanitarian aid funding in Serbia, in March 2018. The main concern among NGOs was what would succeed ECHO in terms of funding response measures concerning migration in the area of civil protection. Meanwhile, the interest of the state sector in the Miksalište center was rising. GOs, the Ministry of Labor’s Centers for Social Work, and the CRM, in particular, had been gradually bringing employees into Miksalište center. The cooperation between GO field workers and NGO field workers was improving, which represented once more the intersections between professionalized humanitarian and state modes of response to migration. Mutual information exchange became more intensive. This allowed CRM to officially enter Miksalište as a crucial actor.
Re-statization: ›One Stop Point Miksalište‹
In the ›Law on Migration Management‹, the CRM is defined as an organization that performs tasks related to migration management (Migration Management Act 2012), and, in the latest ›Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection‹, as an organization that provides material conditions for the reception of asylum seekers (Asylum Act 2018). In May 2018, CRM started to cover the night shift in Miksalište center because NGOs did not have enough funds for their employees. I will take this event as the beginning of the re-statization phase within the institutional biography of Miksalište (even though CRM officially started to run Miksalište center one year later, in April 2019), because I believe that the relocation of refugees to reception centers became the main purpose of Miksalište center at that point, and GOs received more international funding than NGOs. In June 2018, the Centre for Social Work brought more employees to Miksalište in the course of the ongoing project MADAD 2 giving »further support to Capacity Building for Managing Migration Crisis at the Republic of Serbia« (The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy of the Republic of Serbia 2018). The main activity of social workers employed by the ministry was the support of unaccompanied minors.
MADAD 2 is a project financed by the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis, and the value of the project is 16 million euros for 15 months for The Ministry of Labor, plus five million euros for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) (EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis 2017). The so-called MADAD fund replaced the ECHO fund in terms of representing the central funding source for most of the GOs and NGOs working with migrants in Serbia. The objective of the MADAD action plan was to cater »to the resilience needs of migrant or refugee populations in the Western Balkans, in particular in Serbia, through support to the national authorities, including enhancing shelter capacity and delivery of services« (EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian crisis 2017: 6). ECHO’s objective was, on the other hand, »to provide emergency humanitarian aid to vulnerable refugees, asylum seekers and migrants transiting or staying in the Western Balkans« (European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations 2015: 11), mostly through civil society organizations. ECHO was supporting emergency humanitarian help and CSOs, while MADAD was reinforcing the role of the national authorities and living conditions in reception centers. By following the central funds coming from the EU, one can examine how modes of response to migration have changed in relation to the projects’ objectives.
These major changes did not happen over the night, rather, the state sector gradually permeated through the civil sector. With the appearance of the Open letter in November 2016, the responsibility of humanitarian aid provision was transferred mostly to GOs and NGOs working in reception centers. Even though CRM became the main actor in protecting migrants, the protection and aid provision was not financed by a state budget. Migration management in Serbia is economically dependent on funds from the EU (see Stojić Mitrović/Vilenica 2019: 12). In Serbia, more generally, project financing is not only a feature of the civil sector but also of state institutions, and this is happening within the context of post-socialist transformations and accession to the EU. Mikuš extends the notion of »project society« (Sampson 2002, quoted in Mikuš 2018: 43) and argues that Serbian project society is constituted both by the state and civil sector. By observing how resources from the MADAD 2 project enabled GOs to consolidate dominance in migration response, the specific »projectification of the state« (Mikuš 2018: 142) comes to the fore.
The centralization of EU project funding in the Western Balkans is another tool for imposing control over migration movements outside of the EU and for externalizing EU borders. Small, local organizations, even with the support of international organizations, still have to respect government provisions and harmonize their projects according to those rules. Even though they are non-governmental organizations and are seemingly independent, the government and donors have considerable leverage over them, such as if they are perceived to work against particular interests. As the refugees’ needs are often incompatible with the government’s interests, local organizations have to balance between the needs of refugees, government orders, and the INGOs’ rules. In this way, local NGO workers and activists »seem to feel ethically compelled to work both in resistance and solidarity« (Greenberg/Spasić 2017: 322); to improvise and adapt to new circumstances.
In the beginning of 2019, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) attempted to change the course of action in Miksalište by bringing the BelgrAid volunteers to run the showers and washing machines. BelgrAid is a volunteer organization in Belgrade that gathers international volunteers who want to help refugees and migrants and who usually only stay at a site for a few weeks or months. MSF has been present with providing and supervising showers and washing machines in Miksalište since December 2016. They also run a clinic across the street, in Gavrila Principa 18. MSF cooperates with international volunteer groups in Serbia, by supporting them and funding their activities, and together they often oppose the government’s migration policy. After its foundation in 1971, MSF, one of the largest international humanitarian organizations, »constructed itself ›against the state‹ via rhetoric that affirmed its independence by denouncing established powers« (Fassin 2007: 150). The MSF branch in Serbia is not as powerful as in France, but it uses a similar rhetoric. MSF’s attempt to bring BelgrAid volunteers to Miksalište (which was not yet officially run by CRM at the time) can be interpreted as an endeavor to disrupt the processes of re-statization and to induce a type of response to migration that is based on humanitarian volunteer work. However, after BelgrAid’s volunteers were present in Miksalište for only two months, CRM signed the contract with the owners of the space and decided to leave both BelgrAid volunteers and MSF out of the picture.
By examining migration-related governance structures and practices in Spain, Belen Agrela and Gunther Dietz have analyzed re-statized NGO services and argued that there has been a lot of »back-and-forth movement between public and private actors at the lower levels of immigration policy« (Agrela/Dietz 2006: 221). The beginning of a re-statization of migration-related governance in Serbia can be traced back to the passing of the Law on Asylum in 2007/2008, when the Asylum Office of the Ministry of Interior started to process asylum applications instead of the UNHCR. The take-over of the NGO-run center by a GO, as in the case of Miksalište, could be interpreted as an example of the re-statization of migration response.
In April 2019, CRM officially took charge of the center. The name was changed to ›One stop point Miksalište‹. The prefix ›Refugee Aid‹ was omitted. In 2015, while the migration corridor which connected Turkey and Austria was developing (Beznec/Speer/Stojić Mitrović 2016), and alongside existing asylum centers for migrants who showed the intention to seek asylum in the Republic of Serbia, the state opened so-called transit and transit-reception centers near main exit spots: first on the border with Hungary and later with Croatia. The ›one stop‹-center format had also been established in 2015 in order to enhance the registration of migrants entering Serbia. The first one stop-center had therefore been put in use in Preševo, on the main entry border with Macedonia (see Contenta in this issue).
The Miksalište space was reconstructed once again to be consistent with the new functioning of the center. The center was redesigned to look more official, neat, and minimalistic. Drawings, posters, and other materials created during the workshops were removed from the interior walls, except the so-called ›children corner‹. A mural on the exterior walls of the center was almost entirely overpainted: only small segments of blue paint with the captions ›hope‹ and ›love‹ were left. The main purpose of the Miksalište center turned into the relocation of refugees from the Belgrade city center to official reception centers. Only those who wanted to register (to be exact: express their intention to seek asylum), or who were already registered, could linger in the center. As one volunteer giving recycling workshops in the center said: »Miksalište is now the center for the distribution of people and not the center for the distribution of aid«. The role of NGOs inside the center was limited to legal aid services and protecting the vulnerable population. CRM also took over the responsibility of crucial aspects of funding.
The ›securitarian turn‹ in Serbia’s migration policy can be traced back to the second half of 2016, and it is the result of political developments in the region and pressures in the negotiation process with the European Union (see Stojić Mitrović 2019: 24). However, CRM’s role is not only reduced to security. Providing aid to those who want to be accommodated in reception centers is one of its main tasks. The »security-humanitarian policies« (Petrović 2018: 46) reveal the tendency to protect the ones who simultaneously pose a threat, by placing them in a controlled environment and providing them with food, water, and shelter. Reception centers in this security-humanitarian context thus appear as the only ›solution‹ for refugees and migrants. The predominance of reception centers is one of the most important manifestations of the »convergence of humanitarianism, human rights and security« (Perkowski 2018: 457), even though the reception centers in Serbia are not closed centers (they are, at least nominally, open-type centers, meaning that people can go out and come back).
Care for the basic biological needs, on the one hand, and control of movement, on the other hand (see Petrović 2018: 51), are at the core of the security-humanitarian mode of governance. Therefore, »even though the humanitarian and securitarian principles of responding to migration movements can be seen as opposites, in practice, both use the same metaphors from the position of power: who may receive help, who has the right to decide on this, who provides assistance and who receives it, who has the power to organize assistance, choose, and control actors and activities« (Stojić Mitrović 2019: 24). The security-humanitarian mode of governance transgresses the differences between states and humanitarians (see Fassin 2007: 150), non-governmental versus governmental actors (see Agrela/Dietz 2006), and the state and civil society (see Mikuš 2018), and shifts the focus towards less self-evident mechanisms of migration governance.
CRM, as a governmental organization responsible for the provision of material resources concerning aid and reception, confirmed the role of main actor in response to migration movements within a security-humanitarian framework by taking over the Miksalište center. Enhancing the registration process and transfers to reception centers has become the main purpose of the center. Material resources and the support-structure of the EU contributed to this shift.
The history of Miksalište center is marked by three dominant modes of response to migration: voluntarism, professionalization, and re-statization—or, to be exact: volunteer humanitarianism, professionalized humanitarianism and securitarian humanitarianism. Changes in modes of response on a community level were the result of the changes in policy on national and regional levels. First, while migrants were visibly transiting through Belgrade in the summer of 2015, the Old Miksalište center in Mostarska street was open. The main objective was to help people during the ›refugee crisis‹, and many volunteers responded within this emergency discourse. Second, the corridor which enabled many refugees to cross the EU borders without major obstacles was closed, and so was the Old Miksalište, due to the local government’s decision to make room for the Belgrade Waterfront project. The new center, Miksalište 2.0, was opened at a new location. The professionalized humanitarian approach was predominant here. The open letter to NGOs, issued by the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs, indicated a re-statization of NGO-provided services. Third, the new Law on Asylum was adopted, governmental organizations received most of the EU funding, and the main priority of One stop point Miksalište was to facilitate transfers of migrants to reception centers in Serbia—this all led to a consolidation of the re-statization phase.
While Miksalište center was constituted of many actors and groups deriving from parts of civil society in the first and partly the second phase, it was gradually becoming a center run by a particular coalition of professionalized NGOs. This second phase was marked by professionalized humanitarianism. Every stage had its own dynamics. Sometimes, the differences between the modes of response to migration were not so clear-cut or obvious. The dualism between government and non-government actors may seem unquestionable, but by following the transformations of the Miksalište center, we can observe that these two overlap, not only practically but also conceptually. Practically, their roles and domains of activities interfere, support, and confront each other depending on a whole spectrum of wider socio-political and economic factors in which regional migration policies are important. One might say that the institutionalization of the formerly informal and volunteer-based humanitarian center was the highest recognition of the center’s efforts. Others would say that it is a manifestation of total control by the state. Conceptually, humanitarian NGOs form a specific kind of ›non-governmental government‹ with their own rules, based on their moral authority. Also, the devotion to protecting basic human rights blurs the boundary between humanitarianism and securitization. In this context, the individual needs to be recognized and registered by the state in order to achieve these basic human rights. Invisibility may be dangerous and make migrants vulnerable to human rights violations. This amounts to a double-edged sword, intrinsic to the humanitarian-security nexus.
Conceptual categories (voluntarism, professionalization, and re-statization) guide the activities practiced by different actors (volunteers, aid workers, and governmental organizations workers). People who act within ›civil society‹ and the ›state‹ do not exist in a social vacuum. Rather, they are connected and interdependent, struggling to survive and find solutions in the Serbian post-socialist ›project society‹, which is trying to join the EU in hope for a more stable future. In Serbia, the relationship between the state and civil society is understood as antagonistic and binary because of the way the liberal-democratic state was created after the year 2000. In fact, though, both state and civil society organizations are involved in similar issues and depend on international funds and policies.
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Autoethnography of participation is a term used to describe both my volunteer and NGO-based participation in Miksalište, which took place before beginning my PhD and acquiring a research rank.↩︎
The expression ›Stabilization and Association Process‹ was designed specifically for the ›Western Balkans‹, as a construct denoting former Yugoslav countries, without Slovenia and with Albania (see Beznec/Speer/Stojić Mitrović 2016: 32; Mikuš 2018: 71).↩︎
The chapters 23 (Judiciary and fundamental rights) and 24 (Justice, freedom and security) in Serbia’s EU accession negotiations are related to asylum and migration (Stojić Mitrović 2019: 21), and these two chapters were opened in July 2016 (European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations 2019).↩︎
Theoretically, grassroots right-wing and anti-immigrant movements, which are part of the »nationalist civil society« (Mikuš 2018: 108), are an additional category of actors responding to migration movements. They are also under the influence of various international far right actors in a way that we can even discuss a »Europeanisation« of the Serbian far-right (see Lažetić 2018: 151). However, this topic and discussion are beyond the scope of this paper. The activities of local anti-immigration movements are not analyzed as separate phase in the development of Miksalište because they were not directly involved, and they were not a part of the center’s programs, even though they were an external, silent factor in the development of Miksalište that periodically caused ripples in the public sphere.↩︎