A Study of Grupa 484’s efforts in Forced Migration Work in Serbia from 1995 to present

By Saniah Aljunied Post date: May 15, 2014


Brief Description of Objectives and Tasks set by Group 484

Group 484 is a non-governmental organisation that has been in operation since 1995. At its founding, Group 484’s immediate aims were to lend support to the organization of 484 refugee families that sought refuge in Serbia after the Croatian Army regained control of Krajina during “Operation Storm”. Ever since their initial efforts of extending humanitarian, legal and social integration efforts to the 484 refugee families in Serbia, Group 484 has grown to become a formalized organization with a high degree of structure in approaching issues of forced migration. Apart from working with decision makers to craft durable solutions, Group 484 also extends its scope of work to promoting tolerance toward diversity among local communities.

This brief outline provides a summary of Group 484’s achievements thus far, and its mission and vision that underlines the organisation’s functions. The rest of this case study contains a review of migration patterns in Serbia, and the role Group 484 has played in South-East European migration. In addition, close analysis will be done on the innovativeness of the programme of Group 484 as an organization, highlighting their strengths and focusing on the transferability of these qualities.

Since its founding in 1995, Group 484 has provided support and assistance to over 100,000 beneficiaries. Group 484 has worked in over 70 Serbian towns to form a far-reaching network of associates, and has both developed and participated in regional initiatives. From extending aid to the 484 refugee families, Group 484 has developed to become a prominent feature in regional networks, including the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE). Most notable is the trajectory of development of Group 484 as an NGO: the scope of Group 484’s work has extended beyond providing humanitarian aid to refugees, but as of 2010,


Group 484 has also placed an emphasis on self-sufficiency as a key means of migrant survival, and have been developing initiatives that support social entrepreneurship.

In order to assist and strengthen forced and voluntary migrants in Serbia, while also impacting the local community, Group 484 divides their work into three programmes:[2]

  • The PRIMO programme is based on the modern socio-economic principle ofintegration via active participation in social cooperatives and social enterprise. Thisprogramme seeks to encourage forced migrants and refugees to become self-sufficientfor economic as well as assimilation purposes. In addition, Group 484 supports thedevelopment of social protection services at the local level to include migrants intosocial welfare systems, while also promoting development of beneficial legalframeworks at a national level.
  • We and the Others programme focuses on integration and social cohesion efforts via an inculcation of values at the educational and professional level. The primary effort of this initiative is to develop a culture that embraces multiple perspectives and celebrates diversity and difference.
  • Centre for Migration (CEMI) has been established as the think-tank department of Group 484. Its key aim is to increase visibility of the position of migrants in Serbia. This is realized by CEMI’s extensive research and analysis on existing policies related to forced or voluntary migration, the results of which are used to shape migration policy in Serbia.

This case study will focus on the PRIMO programme’s social entrepreneurship and how Group 484 has used the inventive method of economic participation to drive social inclusion.


Review of Migratory Flows in Serbia and the Resulting Problems

As seen in the Figure,


the majority of refugees who fled Croatia remained within the borders of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. As indicated by the red arrows, most of these headed to Serbia were Croatian Serbs. For the interest of this case study, patterns of population displacement into Serbia will be limited to coincide with the founding of Group 484; from 1995 onwards, there were 2 major inflows of migration into Serbia:

In 1995, the Croats subdued Western Slavonia, and the Croatian military regained control of the Republic of Krajina. The fall of Krajina then led to a substantial wave of refugees[4] arriving in Serbia. Displaced refugees from Croatia continued to arrive in Serbia until mid-1996.

2.    In 1998, another significant wave of migration into Serbia occurred when Eastern Slavonia reintegrated with Croatia, with about 20,000 migrants entering Serbia.

In response to the first wave of migration in Serbia, Group 484 was set up to provide legal and humanitarian aid to the migrants. In 1999, as the number of migrants in Serbia continued to be on the rise, making the situation become more prominent, Group 484 understood the need to change the way it interacted with the migrants in Serbia. Group 484 then sought to expand the scope of its work, and started seeking out greater amounts of international funding and donors to develop programs that would a greater outreach potential. Group 484’s initial aim of providing immediate and direct humanitarian aid was not to change, but instead, to structure the growth of their organisation, and to find more systematic ways to go about fulfilling their mission.

One of the main problems that developed with the influx of forced migrants was the issue of housing and where to place these migrants. According to the Article 21 on Law on Asylum of the Republic of Serbia,


asylum seekers will be provided with “accommodation and basic living conditions” upon their arrival in Serbia. As a result, the Serbian government developed collective centres with the aim of providing emergency care and accommodation for the vulnerable internally displaced persons (IDPs). In 1999, when the number of refugees peaked, about 70,000 people were being accommodated in the 700 government-run collective centres throughout the country.


Yet, the collective centres could not possibly have been a long-term solution for the influx of IDPS and forced migrants, as there were many vital underlying problems that were not solved by providing temporary housing. According to a study conducted by the Commissariat for Refugees and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), from an economic standpoint, the issue of employment and income posed a dominant problem. The unemployment rate among IDPs is 40.7%, which is significantly higher than the local population. In addition, 58% of IDPs in collective centres do not have access to a personal income. The most common source of income to IDPs comes from the state-provisions like the “Kosovo Compensation”, while only less than ¼ (23.98%) of the IDPs in collective centres were salaried or self-sufficient individuals.


The ineffectuality of collective centres can also be seen from a social standpoint. The age and educational structure of IDPs in collective centres is far less favourable than the entire population of IDPs, where a large majority of 45.6% have only completed elementary school, and less than 5% have graduated from university.


Apart from education, the relative isolation of IDPs and forced migrants who reside in collective centres poses another problem to assimilation and integration into the local community. A combination of the socioeconomic problems increases the vulnerability of these migrants, who are typically hard pressed to find legal backing for their rights and lack access to healthcare and social assistance. As such, it becomes evident that the collective centres are little more than a short term response to the influx of IDPs and forced migrants. Rather than provide a solution at all, the long-term effects of these collective centres are more damaging than reparatory, and bring up a whole new host of socio-economic problems to both the migrants and the local communities.


Group 484’s “Social Entrepreneurship” Response

In response to the socio-economic issues posed by collective centres, Group 484 started to look towards social entrepreneurship (under the umbrella of the PRIMO programme) as a viable solution. The activities of social enterprises seek to solve the problems of vulnerable groups on both social and economic levels: entrepreneurship is used to achieve the social objectives of strengthening IDPs’ and forced migrants’ ties to their local communities.

The logic behind social enterprises lies in one key factor: the profits of the business are reinvested in the public interest. As such, there is a higher emphasis placed on social and public impact, rather than just profit making. The underlying decision-making structure of such a system is therefore democratic, and managerial processes can involve and include significantly more members of the community. Rather than a triangular structure of a typical commercial enterprise, in which ownership belongs to little more than a few members of the community, social enterprises are largely based on the pluralistic and democratic concept of organisational management.[9] This means that every participant in the position of ownership also participates in decision-making, and the value of his or her opinion does not rely on size of equity stake.

The key target areas that such an enterprise would seek to remedy would be unemployment, the lack of self-sufficiency or over-reliance on handouts, as well as integration into the local community via mutually beneficial cooperatives. Some of the actions that Group 484 has undertook thus far, with regards to developing the social entrepreneurship initiatives include:[10]

  • Social Enterprise Forum – The goals of this forum is to develop and promote the concept of social entrepreneurship in the Western Balkans. The action of this project also includes analysis and consultancy services to potential social enterprises in Serbia, while at the same time developing a sustainable network of social enterprises across Serbia. Another aim of the forum is to attain more favourable legal frameworks for the progress of social entrepreneurship in Serbia.
  • ESSENSEE – Eco-Social Economy Network of South and Eastern Europe. Thisproject that ran from November 2010 to November 2012, in which Group 484 was apartner, aimed at establishing a network of social enterprises between Italy, Croatia,Serbia, Macedonia and Kosovo. The focus of ESSENSEE was on fostering culturaland socio-economic linkages via extensive networking and common platforms orframeworks, civic participation and social synergy in the civil segment.
  • WASE – Formal Employment of Waste Collectors through Social Entrepreneurship in the Field of Recycling. The aims of the project, which ran from October 2011 to March 2013, were to bolster the secondary raw material collecting sector through the establishment of social cooperatives in the field of recycling. This project put in practice what has been previously researched and theorized upon by conferences and policy initiatives to recommend the solution of social entrepreneurship.


Analysis of Group 484’s Actions & Implementation

Group 484’s work on forced migration issues has had a significant impact on the forced migrants and IDPs in Serbia. They have raised overall awareness of the plight of IDPs and forced migrants, sought to effect crosscutting policy changes in Serbia via conducting research to highlight the sheer inadequacy of collective centres, fostered the innovative response of social entrepreneurship to the problems of cultural isolation and unemployment or over-reliance on handouts, while also promoting the exchange of best practices of social entrepreneurship among South and Eastern European states. In adopting a multi-faceted strategy, Group 484 has shown astute judgment in pursuing a multitude of approaches to deal with the complex and long-term issue of migratory flows in Serbia. The combination of actions and achievements that Group 484 has attained thus far, especially with the closing down of a majority of collective centres in 2000, point toward an effective and incremental approach towards self-sufficiency of IDPs and forced migrants.

While there are benchmarks and clear figure indicators for economic progress of IDPs and forced migrants, as well as ways to track policy changes that incrementally support their legal rights, the complexity of both measuring and putting into effect the phenomenon of integration perhaps remains as one of the key challenges that Group 484 has to contend with.

Integration has been described by UNHCR as a “dynamic and multifaceted two-way process which requires efforts by all parties concerned, including a preparedness on the part of refugees to adapt to the receiving society without having to forego their own cultural identity and a corresponding readiness of the part of the receiving communities and public institutions to welcome refugees."


 There is clearly no standard against which the intangible concept of integration can be measured, and there are also clearly no pre-existing internationally accepted markers that should be used.

In his article entitled “Survey on Policy and Practice Related to Refugee Integration”,


Roger Zetter suggests four groups of indicators for migrant integration:

  1. The Citizenship Domain, which includes markers like citizenship status, accessibility of various social rights, economic rights, or welfare systems depending on the stages of identification from refugee status to citizenship determination.
  2. The Governance Domain, which includes the degree of governmental responsibility to the state of IDPs or forced migrants, and the strategies that governments might take on to deal with the issue.
  3. The Functional Domain, which includes markers for basic survival such as housing, education and skills needed for employment in the domestic labour market.
  4. The Social Domain, which includes markers for one’s sense of self and identification, social capital and civic involvement in society.

Due to the fact that most of the IDPs and forced migrants are from former Yugoslav republics, they largely share a similar culture and language with the rest of the native Serbs. The main difference would then be the legality of IDPs and forced migrants, since refugees are typically conditioned by their status. By examining the action and strategies of Group 484, their humanitarian aid efforts and measured successes with the issues of housing and social enterprises, it is evident that Group 484 is heavily involved in achieving workable measures and successes in the functional domain. Other projects outside of the PRIMO umbrella, such as the second programme “We and the Others” that seeks to effect social integration via education, show efforts to achieve success in the social domain. It is important to note that each of these domains are intricately connected with one another, for example, once an IDP achieves marked progress within the citizenship domain, it opens up entry ways for that IDP to achieve progress or opportunities to fulfill the functional domain as more rights are attributed to the IDP.

Hence, with regard to legality, Group 484 could provide more than just legal advice to these IDP and migrants. Efforts placed to achieve certain levels of accomplishment within the citizenship and governance key indicator would help to make Group 484’s overall efforts more cohesive. Apart from collaborating with legal aid agencies to provide legal support to IDPs, Group 484 could also dedicate some of their efforts on providing crosscutting policy recommendations to the Serbian government to increase the possibility and speed at which the citizenship determination can be achieved. Standards and national laws could be implemented to ensure that these IDPs and forced migrants have a strict time frame, within which they can be assessed for citizenship status, to incrementally provide them with rights and benefits, and then be inducted into Group 484’s own social enterprise initiatives which would give them some degree of economic freedom.

The complexity that comes with migration issues is that it is more than an issue that deals with economic and legal problems, but it is involves the provision of care not to ignore human rights even when dealing with institutional problems. Hence, Group 484’s overall direction at its initial founding to give precedence to humanitarian aid is highly beneficial, as this provides a solid foundation for all other considerations of the issues of forced migration. At the outset of Group 484’s founding, when faced with immediate crises and huge influxes of IDPs, this also reflects an accurate prioritizing of short-term humanitarian aid over trying to affect institutional policies, which requires the generosity of time. Group 484’s trajectory over time of developing different programs to go beyond short-term aid, and to look into long-term solutions of self-sufficiency that impact the root problems of unemployment and integration, is therefore to be emulated.


Recommendations for Overall Transferability of Group 434’s Initiatives

The emergence of social entrepreneurship as a solution perhaps arises from the shift in global perspective of refugees and IDPs – from the image of them as sources of poverty and dependence to a source of capital. Yet, even with the progress that has been made by Group 434’s efforts in Serbia, integration remains a long and challenging process, especially with countries’ with IDPs that do not even fulfill the most basic structural domain of humanitarian aid and welfare.

The methods of Group 434 would then only be limited to countries with clear frameworks on how to deal with providing IDPs and forced migrants with the basic level of humanitarian aid. There also has to be a certain level of stability within the migrant community and familiarity of the NGOs and organizations with the migrant community to provide the best fitted and tailored solutions to an issue as multifaceted and complex as migration of IDPs and forced migrants. As such, understanding the context and ethnic background of migrant flows is certainly crucial before attempting to create targeted long-lasting solutions to this problem.



Group 484, Social Entrepreneurship, Electronic Newsletter on Social Entrepreneurship (2010),



Group 484, Group 484 Background (2012), <http://www.grupa484.org.rs/en/group-484>


Figure 1: Population displacements in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1991 till 2001 (Rekacewicz, 2003) <http://www.grida.no/graphicslib/collection/balkan-vital-graphics>


Grinvald, Marea. Palacký University. Problems of Integration of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons in Serbia. (2010). <http://theses.cz/id/m9hywr/76864-676024508.pdf>


Republic of Serbia, Ministry of the Interior. The Law on Asylum. Belgrade. (2007)


KIRS. Collective Centres. (2010). <http://www.kirs.gov.rs/articles/centri.php?lang=ENG>


Commissariat for Refugees of the Republic of Serbia. The Condition and Needs of the Internally DisplacedPersons in Collective Centres in the Republic of Serbia – 1.2 Education. (2010).



Commissariat for Refugees of the Republic of Serbia. The Condition and Needs of the Internally Displaced Persons in Collective Centres in the Republic of Serbia – 2.1 Employment Status & 2.2 Personal and Other Income(2010). <http://www.kirs.gov.rs/docs/The_condition_and_the_needs_of_IDPs_in_cc.pdf>


Group 484. Social Entrepreneurship – Electronic Newsletter on Social Entrepreneurship. Vol 1. (2010) <http://www.grupa484.org.rs/sites/default/files/SP%20bilten_eng.pdf>


Group 484. Past Projects. (2012). <http://www.grupa484.org.rs/en/past-projects->


UNHCR. UNHCR note on Refugee Integration in Central Europe – Introduction. Hungary. (2009)



Zetter, Roger. Survey on policy practice related to refugee integration. (2002).