“I liked the idea from the moment they told us the issues we would learn about,” says Mustafa *one of eight young men, all asylum seekers in various municipalities of Serbia, who now hold certificates as peer trainers on a range of complex yet pertinent topics. “Back home I never learned about human trafficking or gender-based violence and all the other threats to our safety that we learned about now. As Farsi does not even have words for these concepts, our cultural mediator could not even interpret them but explained them very well.”
Mustafa clearly enjoyed a training for trainers’ programme – funded by UNHCR and taught by the Crisis Response and Protection Centre (CRPC), IDEAS and the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) – on gender norms and their importance, substance and alcohol abuse, gender-based violence in all its forms, trafficking in human beings and the rights of LGBTI persons.
Mustafa arrived in Serbia three years ago, initially merely intending to transit Serbia. He was immediately identified as an unaccompanied minor (i.e. under age and on his own) and accommodated in an asylum centre. “The longer I stayed here, the more I liked it,” Mustafa explains, “everyone was friendly and willing to help me overcome my homesickness.” He started learning Serbian and attended a local primary school.
This year more than 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children arrived in Serbia, almost twice as many as last year. Most are boys from Afghanistan. Authorities and UNHCR partners cooperate to identify them, refer them to Child Welfare Services, appoint guardians (to 1,022 children under the UNHCR/IDEAS project), counsel them on asylum and house them in homes for unaccompanied children or asylum centres.
In light of the arrival of ever more unaccompanied and separated children, of whom many have suffered violence and abuse during their journey, who could be better placed to raise awareness among this vulnerable group about such pertinent threats than youngsters who themselves fled their home countries? Equipped with iPads, proudly displaying their certificates and wearing especially designed hoodies denoting their newly acquired status as peer trainers, these young men now stand ready to share their knowledge and engage in discussions on these complex topics in asylum centres across the country.
Maja, an NGO counsellor and certified social worker, praised the eight new peer trainers: “Bearing in mind cultural differences, I am delighted with the speed at which they absorbed my lectures and with the enthusiasm they showed for the project.” While a newly-certified peer trainer added that he enjoyed the training also because it gives him a sense of purpose and usefulness while awaiting the outcome of his application for refugee status in Serbia – and helps him to manage the plight he went through before arriving here.
*The name has been changed for identity protection