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A Day with RMF Serbia

Serving Refugees

June 26, 2018 - Serbia
Dr. Mina Novaković


Background

According to the most recent data, the number of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants increased slightly in Serbia, with 4,273 counted on December 24, 2017. Of these, around 3,999 were accommodated in one of five asylum centers or thirteen reception centers, with Obrenovac Transit Centre being one of the largest and accomodating around 700 people.

RMF Serbia’s mobile clinic is stationed in this shelter, where our team operates 7 days of the week, from 3:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. The RMF mobile medical team, consisting of two doctors, one cultural mediator/translator, and one driver, provides primary healthcare services, and up to 60 consultations can be facilitated per shift.

In addition to resolving medical problems on the spot at our mobile clinic, RMF Serbia is responsible for coordinating healthcare provision for the refugees*. Working in close cooperation with the Serbian Ministry of Health and other NGOs such as Crisis Response and Policy Centre and Danish Refugee Council, we are managing the referral of patients to secondary and tertiary healthcare facilities. This means that every day of the week, from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., we provide transportation and escort services and also advocate for refugee patients’ rights.


RMF Serbia team on the way to Obrenovac refugee camp


First Shift

As mentioned above, first shifts are spent in secondary and tertiary facilities, and they are reserved for specialist examinations and certain diagnostic procedures. The beauty of these shifts—although they can be tiresome because of all the waiting and the lack of organization and a systematic approach in treating refugee patients (at some of the hospitals, not all)—is the time we spend with our patients. Here we are given a chance to talk, listen to their stories, and understand where they are coming from and what has driven them to seek for a better future so far away from home. These shifts also bring a unique sense of fulfillment when we succeed in hospitalizing a seriously ill patient and the feeling of gratification because we have done everything in our power to provide the best possible care.


RMF medical officer greeting patients during first shift


Second Shift

Compared with first shifts, second shifts are surely more dynamic and fun, but they can also get extremely stressful. The majority of our patients are young men in their twenties and early thirties, and they are usually both mentally and physically well-adapted to hard living conditions, since they have already been through a lot in the moment when they reach Serbia.

The most common pathology in this population is skin and respiratory infections, as well as all sorts of injuries, especially in those who have just managed (or tried) to cross the borders of neighboring countries. During attempts to cross the borders, refugees spend up to several days in forests with no access to clean water, food, or shelter. They return in poor shape, often beaten by the police. The RMF Serbia team is well trained and very efficient in handling these kinds of medical conditions, and in just a couple of days most of the patients are fully recovered.


Patients waiting for examination in front of RMF mobile clinic


Sometimes, our patients are members of more vulnerable groups—either a person suffering from a chronic condition or children, most often young boys from thirteen to sixteen years of age. In the cases of unaccompanied minors or persons with disabilities, RMF Serbia has the duty to notify the Centre for Social Work.

When dealing with such patients, we are always cautious not to miss a significant symptom or sign of a serious illness. What we also always try to keep in mind is the psychological trauma they might have been through and the specific approach that is needed.


A patient from Afghanistan with a blast injury


The whole RMF Serbia team is well aware of the role that true compassion and understanding play when approaching an individual that underwent a form of emotional distress, and that is why we are giving our best to show our patients that we are here for them, not just when they are suffering from physical trauma, but also when they are battling with mental issues that often accompany it. And sometimes, a sincere smile is the best medication and the greatest victory.

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