Skip to main content

Priority is given to children and single mothers

photo: Igor Jovanović

Priority is given to children and single mothers

Ivana Ristićević is an advisor at the DIMAK Information Centre in Belgrade. She talks in an interview about the challenges faced by families returning to Serbia.

You also advise families who are returning. What in particular do you need to consider?

We at DIMAK always focus on the welfare of children. They have priority, because their needs make it much more urgent to resolve any open issues linked to their return. Apart from the existential aspects, such as income, housing, food and clothing, it’s vital that families with children reintegrate especially quickly. Otherwise these children could miss out on too much at school and lose the motivation to continue their education.

Is school a difficult issue?

Many returnees don’t find it easy, above all if their children have never attended a Serbian school. Formal steps are required to send them to school. The families have to be registered with the authorities. Returning Roma in particular, for example, often see this as hostile and discriminatory, even though the procedure is the same for the entire population. But we have empathy for such people and their mistrust. That's what life has taught them.

Could you explain that in more detail?

Some people have experienced constant exclusion and rejection. It’s not surprising that they sooner expect sanctions, rather than the promised benefits of registering. Yet this formality is an absolute must. It's therefore my task to explain this during our first contact, and to encourage people to register.

Which people in these vulnerable groups find that especially difficult?

Single mothers. I often experience them as emotionally very vulnerable, with intense anxieties. There are also young people separated from their families who are living in Germany on a proper basis. Sometimes young people lose their residence permit when they turn 18 and are forced to return to Serbia. They are legally of age, but they don’t feel grown up and they certainly aren't prepared for returning. They have to leave their entire life in another country behind and often don’t even speak Serbian.

How do you help people like that? Can you give us an example?

A while ago, we were given details about a single mother who was in great distress before her return to Serbia. She came to us before even making contact with her family here. She assumed that we would immediately find her accommodation and take care of her in other ways. But that’s not how it works. DIMAK isn’t a provider, it’s more of a facilitator.

Ivana Ristićević is an advisor at DIMAK in Belgrade.

What did you do next?

I calmed her down and explained to her what she had to do. We helped her to register an address with her family and to obtain the necessary documents. After that, the state quickly made accommodation available to her and the children were enrolled in a school. We got our partner organisations involved and they gave her clothing and school supplies.

Were you also able to help her in her career?

Yes, I used our counselling sessions to motivate her to register for a continuing education programme offered by one of our partner organisations. She eventually completed a hairdressing course and now works while her children are at school. It took a while, but she’s doing much better now because she knows that she can provide for herself and her children. Empowering people in ways like this is really the main purpose of my work.

As of: 05/2022

We focus on the welfare of children.
Ivana Ristićević, an advisor at DIMAK in Belgrade

Other experiences