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The migrant crisis in Southeastern Europe: How can you help?

Recent UNICEF report suggests that nearly 140,000 migrants arrived on European shores from January until September 2017. Many of these migrants choose the Eastern Mediterranean Route, that is, they enter through Turkey or Greece and move north through the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Bulgaria until they reach Hungary.

In the first nine months of 2017 only, 18,640 children migrants were identified on this particular route, with an increased risk that there might be many more. Both children and adult migrants have reportedly been living in very harsh conditions in all of these countries, some of them stranded in one same place for years with no prospects for a better future.

While human rights professionals are always necessary in such a serious humanitarian crisis like this one, winter is particularly dangerous and is what both the humanitarian workers and the migrants fear the most. In other words, in the next several months, most migrants currently on the Southeastern European route will not have a warm place to stay, access to clean water, nutritious food, or health services. People from any part of the world willing to help are needed more than ever.

For this reason, we have prepared an overview of the ways in which any human rights professional or activist can help provide relief in the current migrant crisis in this particular part of the world. More precisely, we have identified the repeatedly advertised, paid and unpaid, positions that both local and international organizations are in need of for you to consider in case this is your preferred career path.

Volunteer Opportunities

Local and international organizations working on the migrant crisis in Southeastern Europe never have enough hands to help them out. Moreover, although there are large inflows of funding available, the money often goes to the bare necessities that the beneficiaries have – and even those are not enough for everyone. That said, everyone willing to help out for free is above needed and extremely valued.

As a volunteer, you will be asked to make a commitment to stay with the organization at least for 3 weeks – although some organizations ask for the minimum of 3-6 months. Sometimes, you can expect to have any local transportation costs covered, or to be given a warm meal together with the beneficiaries, however this should not be counted on for all open positions. Needless to say, even though it is unpaid work, volunteers have to deal with extremely vulnerable groups of people and, more often than not, with sensitive personal information as well, so organizations will always establish a set of pre-selection criteria to make sure you are the right fit.

The opportunities are plenty, especially considering that the harsher period of the year is coming. You can decide to volunteer in emergency situations – so, for instance, on one of the Greek islands where saving lives actually happens – or to volunteer in one of the numerous camps and shelters for migrants.

It would be impossible to list all of the organizations currently contributing to ameliorating the consequences of the migrant crisis in some capacity, so we have carefully picked a couple of volunteering opportunities worth considering.

  1. Lighthouse Relief

Deadline: on-going applications

Lighthouse Relief started out as a small group of independent volunteers working on the island of Lesbos, one of the main target destinations of migrants coming by boat. Two years later, they have become active both on the Greek mainland in the Ritsona Refugee Camp and on the island of Lesbos, and have a number of on-going volunteer opportunities. In the refugee camp, the organization is currently looking for volunteers to engage in Child Friendly Space, Female Friendly Space, Youth Engagement Space and as a videographer. On Lesbos, volunteers are asked to participate in emergency response, mainly in spotting and giving support in overnight transit. Any relevant humanitarian discipline (human rights, political science) will suffice, and it is desirable but not necessary that you speak one of the languages of the migrants, such as Kurdish or Arabic. Another requirement for Lighthouse Relief volunteers is that you are at least 23 years old.

Other similar volunteer opportunities in Greece are regularly updated on the Greece Volunteers Info website.

  1. Refugee Aid Serbia (RAS)

Deadline: on-going applications

When it comes to working with migrants, RAS is one of the most active locally-founded organizations in Serbia. RAS started with a Hot Meal Program, through which 1,000 warm meals were provided to migrants in Serbia each day. Nowadays, their mission has expanded to include the distribution of non-food items in different migrant reception centers. RAS also runs an education center together with another Serbian NGO called North Star. This important organization is in constant need of volunteers of different levels of experience and education, mostly to help the daily distribution team, whose role will be of utmost importance in the next few months.

Internship Opportunities

If you are looking for a more long-term engagement but you do not have enough experience to apply for an entry-level position, you might consider getting involved in the migrant crisis as an intern. Unlike volunteering, internships are not necessarily unpaid. Furthermore, they oftentimes involve working for a larger international organization, so the work can be completely office-based. When it comes to the organizations present in the countries of Southeastern Europe, we recommend that you closely follow positions advertised by Terre des hommes, Save the Children, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ office (UNHCR), Medecins Sans Frontiers, International Organization for Migration (IOM) and International Rescue Committee. Most of these organizations will offer some form of compensation for your invaluable work.


Some of the best-paying jobs in the human rights sector are consultancies. In other words, international organizations constantly look for experts on a particular topic to do some background research or an annotated bibliography for them, process particular data from the field, or advise them on how to proceed with regards to a particular issue. These are short-term engagements which can sometimes be done remotely, while other times fieldwork might be necessary.

Due to the scope and length of the current migrant crisis, international organizations which have been long present in the countries of Southeastern Europe have found themselves in a position where they have to constantly reshape their missions and adapt their approach to the thousands of new beneficiaries. For this reason, there are regular calls for consultants with pretty much the same international organizations mentioned above, as well as UNICEF. You should monitor them closely in case you would rather do more scientific and less hands-on work.

Popular jobs: Cultural mediators and Field coordinators

When it comes all other full-time paid positions, the pool of opportunities is truly great. Professionals can get involved in working with migrants and refugees in so many different capacities – as administrators, logisticians, teachers, human resources offices, medical staff etc. Depending on their mission and expertise, international organizations are need of some professionals more than others; for example, if you are medical worker, you should definitely stay well-informed about the work Medecins Sans Frontieres and Medicins du Monde do.

Yet, we have identified two positions that have become more prominent in the current migrant crisis than ever before: cultural mediators and field coordinators.

Cultural mediators

Every organization working with migrants employs several cultural mediators. These are professionals who speak some of the many languages of the migrants found on the Southeastern European route – from less commonly spoken languages such as Pashtu and Urdu, to more popular languages such as French. In addition to the role of an interpreter which is given to them, cultural mediators also have the task to bridge the two cultures – those of the migrant and of the hosting country – so it is preferable that they are well-acquainted with both. Cultural mediators have become invaluable in the migrant crisis because, without them, the basic and crucial services such as food, shelter, and health services would not fully reach those in need.

Field/Camp coordinators

Nearly all major international organizations have undertaken the task of opening shelters, camps or training centers for migrants traveling through Southeastern Europe, which means that they do a lot of field work. Expectedly, a lot of times, these organizations are looking for people with prior experience in the field, professionals who can coordinate volunteers and interns, deal with the logistics as well as advocacy, and be in charge of communication among different stakeholders, and a number of other tasks related to reporting and administration. Essentially, professionals who are not only good at multitasking, but also at coping with all the difficulties that come with everyday work in the field are extremely valued.

If you scroll down the vacancies offered by any major international organization working with migrants, you will almost certainly find at least one open Field or Camp Coordinator position.

There are many ways you can help

In conclusion, these are some of the main ways in which you can get involved and help the migrants currently passing or living in Southeastern Europe, but the list is not exhaustive. If you are ready to assist in one of the gravest humanitarian crises of our times, do explore the opportunities we have mentioned here regularly until you have found a perfect option for yourself.

Before you go, consider taking a free online course on humanitarian aid or refugee rights.

About the author


Maja Davidovic

Maja Davidovic is a Serbian-born independent researcher and Human Rights graduate. She holds her M.A. degree from Central European University in Budapest, and had previously lived and worked in Greece, Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Maja mostly researches about women’s rights, child protection and transitional justice, and has been involved with organizations such as MSF and OSCE, as well grassroots initiatives. You may follow her on her newly-made Twitter profile @MajaADavidovic, where she aspires to open discussions on a variety of human rights-related issues.