The Ghosts of North Macedonia

Do you believe in ghosts?

There’s a thousand of them in North Macedonia. You can see them on street corners, selling packets of tissues or key rings, collecting plastic, or simply begging.

No, they are not really ghosts, they are very much alive.

They are North Macedonia’s street children and while each has their own ghost story, they all share difficult family situations and experiences of poverty and social exclusion. They live on the margins of the society, in the informal settlements under the bridges or near city dumps, struggling to survive each day.

They are known as ghosts because while you can see them, they don’t exist. Their births are not registered, so they can’t access any state services.

Some of the stories have taken a turn for the better. Over the past year, a team of 14 social workers supported by IOM and the Centre for Social Work in North Macedonia’s capital Skopje have establish initial contacts with 362 street children and are gradually gaining their trust. Almost all of them are Roma and close to forty percent of them are girls.

“Working with these kids is a challenge for each social worker,” said Angelina Andreevska, part of the street social worker team. “Only through deep field work are we able to analyze both the children and their families’ situations and needs, in order to create tailored support.”

Angelina and her colleague Brankica Perhaj spent much of last year among the street children and their families. They describe a life of appalling hardship: large families living in a one-room “house” made of cardboard boxes, where the kids, parents and sometimes animals sleep together on the floor. The cold and the rain destroy their shacks, blowing the street families around the city in a constant quest for shelter. They have no clean water, no electricity, and are thus exposed to diseases and accidents. And of course, as “ghosts” they have no birth certificates, so they can’t get hospital treatment, education or any other services.

The cards are loaded against them before they are born.

Even if they had documents, the grinding poverty and turbulence in their families keeps them on the streets and out of school.

Case by exasperating case, Angelina, Brankica and their colleagues have managed to assist 275 families with proper support or referral to relevant institutions in order to help them to obtain social benefits, employment opportunities, personal documentation, health insurance and more.

“Before I was contacted by the mobile teams I was hopeless that my long term problem with the lack of personal documentation will be solved”, says V.S., a single mother of a street child.

“With the street social workers and the Centre for Social Work assistance I managed to obtain a birth certificate for my daughter, health insurance and the right to social benefits.”

Up to now her daughter has been invisible to the system. She didn’t even – officially – have a name. She spent long, cold days on the street, begging with her mother.

She is one of dozens street children whose lives have been transformed through emergency medical assistance, legal support, food, hygiene and household items, as well as support in their re-socialization and reintegration. This was done through a direct assistance fund established and managed by IOM in coordination with the Skopje Centre for Social Work.

Lockdown interrupted the work for a few months but since June 2020, the street social workers have also provided the children and their families with important information on the risks from COVID-19 virus and preventive and protective measures.

The work with the street children was supported by the International Organization for Migration’s Development Fund.

For more information, please contact IOM North Macedonia: Jelena Krasic Email: [email protected]