Aug 11, 2016

Support for the families of missing children

International missing children day
International missing children day

Activities within the European number for missing children 16000 in Serbia have never been financially supported since its beginning in 2012. For the past 4 years, ASTRA staff has been working voluntary, 24/7 on this line because we are aware of the importance of having a prompt reaction in cases of missing children.

All this time hotline consultants have been providing support to families and children, but also institutions and organizations working in the field, helping to speed up procedures in order to start the search for a missing child sooner, especially in cross-border cases.

Sometimes calls to hotline are referred in the middle of the night and consultants even then must react instantly.

In this year, we received 21 reports about missing children. Because of the refugee crisis there are still many cases of unaccompanied minors or children who have been separated from their families on their route and families are now trying to locate them. In regards to this, ASTRA received 11 reports about missing unaccompanied minors who were travelling alone or with their peers to western countries in order to escape from war stricken countries. 14 children were successfully found, while 7 are still missing. Among this 7, 6 children are refugees.

When people call our number, it usually means that they have already tried everything they could regarding the missing of their child, and they still have not found a solution. Sometimes they talk about their experiences with institutions, how institutions shift responsibilities from one institution to another, and parent’s impression that no one is actually looking for their child.  Parents fear for the life and the safety of their child and they turn to us for help and support in dealing with institutions. They also need emotional support to help them cope with the stressful situation.

In one case after his children were found, a father called us to thank us for the support and help we provided him during this situation of crises when he did not know where his children were. Ever since he reported the missing of a child, consultants were in regular contact with him, informing him about any possible development and any steps that were taken in that regards.

 “You really helped for this situation to be solved and you helped for my child to be found. I am a new man now, and all thanks to you.”

Jun 9, 2016

Assistance to victims during the recovery

In one field action my colleague was helping a 20 year old girl, victim of human trafficking, to accommodate in a temporary apartment that ASTRA rented for her as a part of the support plan for her recovery. When she returned, she told me about the dialog she had with the girl:

“We were talking about her plans for the future. Wanting to empower her, I told her:

-          You are not alone, we are here for you. We will help you get on your own feet…but you have to take care of yourself as well…this is your life  and you have to take control…and we know you can do that...you are capable…you are smart...

-          You really think I am smart?, she asked with a surprise. Her face was showing signs of disbelief. You really think that? You are not just saying that?

-          Yes, of course! We all think you are smart and capable. How you handled all that you have been through, how you managed to escape… of course you are smart!

-          She watched me all surprised, her face lit up as if she has just won the lottery. Thank you so much! I can’t believe you mean that...Who else thinks that?...My sister always tells me that I am good for nothing, that I’ll never manage to do anything…she said with tears in her eyes…

It was then when I realized that, being left by her parents, growing up as child in a children’s shelter, no one ever told her anything encouraging, anything supportive. She has been looked down upon all her life, and she has identified herself with all the bad things that people kept telling her.”

 

Even though anyone can fall victim to human trafficking, and the mistake of generalization should be avoided, there are some similarities among victims who are often members of marginalized groups (women, children and youth, Romas etc). Social surrounding of an individual is a significant factor in becoming a victim: abuse, neglect, deprivation, poverty, lack of employment opportunities, poor access to education, insensitive environment full of prejudices.

Social protection institutions usually provide one-time financial assistance and there are no specialized programs for assisting victims of this form of violence. Social workers lack knowledge, expertise and sensitivity either for recognizing human trafficking or for dealing with victims. For this reason, victims’ very basic needs are often not seen as a priority and the trauma the victims survived is denied or minimized.

 

Since 2002, ASTRA identified 479 victims of human trafficking who were provided with various forms of assistance. Besides receiving material and medical assistance, legal and psychological support, economic empowerment trainings, victims also need emotional support, someone who will be there for them so they can see their way through the difficulty. Having someone to rely on when the chips are down is one of the most important parts in supporting victims during the recovery, something that no matter how functional they may be institutions cannot provide.

That is why your support to our program is so important, because it gives victims an opportunity to have a new start and gain the agency to change their lives instead of being a slave of their own biography.  

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