Eliminate Violence Against Women Who Use Drugs

The Drug Policy Network Southe East Europe organised a meeting dedicated to eliminating violence against women who use drugs on Friday 8 December 2023 in the Palace of Serbia, in Belgrade, with the support from the Office for Combating Drugs of the Government of Serbia. It was the opportunty to share thoughts and experiences in working on this important issue.

Participants came from several intitutions, including ministries on human and minority rights and social dialogue and health, the Institute for Public Health and UNODC representatives for South East Europe, and civil society organisations.

Ivana Joksimović, the Assistant Minister for human rights and social dialogue spoke about human rights of marginalised and discriminated communities. Milutin Milošević, the DPNSEE Executive Director presented the EVAWUD campaign to eliminate violence against women and gender diverse people who use drugs and presented some results from recent surveys published by DPNSEE.

Irena Molnar from ReGeneration shared about their program on improving the competencies of employees in social protection through examples of activities aimed at working with women who have survived violence and are drug users and young people at risk. Nebojša Djurasović from Prevent, the DPNSEE President, presented their experiences in working with the shelter for sex workers in Novi Sad.

The discussion showed a shared determination to continue fostering and protecting human rights of women and gender diverse people who use drugs in Serbia.

Quality Assurance for Drug Use Disorder Treatment Systems

The Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation Section (PRTS) of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with the support fom the Ministry of Health of Serbia, organised a three-day Training on Quality Assurance for Drug Use Disorder Treatment Systems. The aim of this training was to help stakeholders to review national drug use disorder treatment systems, identify gaps and develop plans that will enable the improvement and further development of the national treatment system.

25 participants came from specialised hospitals for treating addictions of pcychiatric hospitals from around the country, institute for public health, institute for mental health, centres for social work and ministry of health. DPNSEE Executive Director Milutin Milošević and representative from Izlazak represented the civil society organisations.

The program of the training was developed following the International standards for the treatment of drug use disorders, prepared by UNODC and the World Health Organisation. A translated version of the Standards was presented and shared during the training.

Trainers Victor Anthony Capoccia (USA) and Thomas Clausen (Norway) were supported by UNODC staff Christina Gamboa-Riano and Žana Glavendekić, Project Officer, UNODC South-Eastern Europe.

Duga raises awareness about importance of testing and early discovery of HIV infection

Community-based and community-led testing services are crucial in the HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis, and sexually transmitted infections response, particularly in reaching populations where diagnosis and linkage to care are lower than the national average. However, providing these services can be challenging, especially in environments that may be hostile towards community-based and -led service delivery, and where policy and legal barriers exist.

In 2022-2023, the COBATEST Network supported six member organizations in countries where the environment is particularly challenging for community-based and community-led service delivery. In the interview with Asocijacija DUGA, one of the 6 organisation supported, they asked the organisation to tell about their work, the challenges they face, and how they are working to improve community-based testing services for HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis, and sexually transmitted infections in their communities.

Replying to the question about the role that CBVCT plays in reaching this community in Serbia, they said:

Community-based and community-led testing (CBVCT) centers have a crucial role in reaching of GBTMSM population in Serbia. This is mainly due to the fact that the population is still significantly stigmatized and discriminated. This is also noticeable within the system of public health institutions. The most of the VCCT centers exist only in bigger cities, and even not all of them have sufficiently sensitized staff in order to properly approach and address the needs of the community. Therefore, majority of the target population rather chooses CBVCT as a place they would like to get the information, counseling and testing services.

 Nowadays, as we are faced with the greater influx of the clients coming from the migrant population, CBVCT approach becomes even more important. No matter if they come from migrant, refugee or asylum seeker community, and belong to the GBTMSM population (which make significant share), they usually find information through the community based organizations and their social networks, as they are more accessible, so we are usually the first they approach to ask for services. Many of migrants belong to the population of PLHIV, and we were able to ensure they get linkage to care as well as to regulate their health insurance status, in order to continue using therapy in Serbia, which would be very difficult to achieve without support of CBVCT organizations.

You can read this interesting interview following this link>>>.


Two additional workshops held

Two additional workshops for service providers and shelter staff on gender-responsive HIV/harm reduction services, healthcare and social needs of women who use drugs, stigma, discrimination and prevention of gender-based violence were held in Novi Sad (on 19 May, at OPENS) and Niš (21 May, EU info point Nis). The workshops were organised in scope of the “Emergency support for the provision of HIV and Harm Reduction services among key populations in Ukraine and refugees in selected neighbouring countries” project.

The content of the workshops was designed on the basis of the training accredited by the Chamber of Social Work, as well as many years of experience of the NGO Re Generacija in research and in the field, in Serbia and internationally.

The training placed a special focus on prevention of stigma and discrimination, prevention and response to gender-based violence, as well as co-dependency and trauma, to ensure greater awareness and understanding of comprehensive gender-sensitive services for women who use drugs, living with HIV, and/or are at risk of gender-based violence.

Information materials for refugees printed and ready for dissemination

The information of relevance about health services and drugs for the refugees from Ukraine and displaced persons from Russia which DPNSEE prepred have been printed and are now ready for dissemination.

All important stakeholders participated in commenting on the draft and provided information from their field of work: ministries of health and interior, commissariat for refugees, institute for public health, office for combating drugs, UNHCR and a civil society organisations working with refugees. This was very important because it would have ensured that the information was accepted and later distributed by all.

Two clear, reliable, and trustworthy information documents are prepared:

  • General information for refugees and displaced persons in the Republic of Serbia, including information about Refugees in the Republic of Serbia, Temporary residence in the Republic of Serbia, and Where else to get more information and support?
  • Information for people living with HIV and populations at increased risk of HIV, including General information about the health care of refugees and displaced persons, Information for people living with HIV, Information for people who use drugs, Information for people from the LGBTI+ population, Information for sex workers, Groceries, other daily necessities and other available services and contacts of the civil society organizations in Serbia that provide support

The documents are published in four languages: Ukrainian, Russian, Serbian and English.

In addition to the information, published already on the DPNSEE website at the following address http://dpnsee.org/informacije/, we prepared a small posted with the QR code that easily leads those interested to this web page.

The Ministry of Interior took responsibility for sharing them with border police stations and their offices dealing with asylum-seeking and registration of foreigners. The Commissariat for Refugees distributes the documents to their officers and refugee centres throughout the country. The Office for Combating Drugs will distribute the information to four cilnics for addictions and their network of multi-sectorial teams in local communities, and they also shared the documents at events where they had information stands. With the support of the Institute for Public Health, DPNSEE sent the documents to their 25 local branches around the country. Our colleagues from the four organisations providing services took the document to share among those who requested support. Documents were also shared with other civil society organisations that work with refugees.


Women, Violence, and the Use of Drugs

A workshop for service providers and shelter staff on gender-responsive HIV/harm reduction services, healthcare and social needs of women who use drugs, stigma, discrimination and prevention of gender-based violence was held in Belgrade. This was the first out of three workshop organised in scope of the “Emergency support for the provision of HIV and Harm Reduction services among key populations in Ukraine and refugees in selected neighbouring countries” project.

Thanks to support of the Office for Combating Drugs, the workshop was held in the Palace of Serbia. 16 representatives came from governmental institutions and civil society organisations. Trainers were Irena Molnar and Stefan Pejić from ReGeneration.

The workshop highlighted the unique reasons, risks, and effects of drug use among women, emphasizing the need for tailored approaches and non-punitive measures. The topics that were discussed at the workshop included:

  • Drug use. HIV and violence – the specificities of risk in women
  • Basic concepts, definitions, intersectionality – sexism, sexual, sexualized and gender-based violence
  • Access to services and needs for women living with HIV and/or using psychoactive controlled substances
  • My bad habit – co-dependency and trauma


Serbia extended temporary protection for refugees from Ukraine for an additional year

The Government of the Republic of Serbia extended the duration of temporary protection for refugees from Ukraine for an additional year. The Government concluded that the reasons for temporary protection still exist, as a result of which it is extended for another year, until 18 March 2024. This decision is in line with the approach of the European Union in managing the situation of mass influx of people caused by the international armed conflict in Ukraine.

The decisions are based on the Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection, which stipulates that temporary protection will be granted to persons who were forced to leave their country of origin or habitual residence and who cannot return to permanent and safe living conditions due to the prevailing situation in that country. The temporary protection mechanism was first activated in Serbia on 17 March 2022.

Based on the Decision of the Government of Serbia, the Asylum Office issued 1,214 decisions approving temporary protection in the period from its entry into force until 1 March 2023. A total of 1,229 people applied for approval of temporary protection, of which 836 were women and 393 were men, including 304 children. There were no unaccompanied children among the persons who requested temporary protection.

According to the Government Decision, temporary protection can be granted, in addition to citizens of Ukraine, to foreigners who had a regular stay in Ukraine. The largest number of persons granted temporary protection are citizens of Ukraine (1,166), but the Asylum Office also accepted requests for this type of protection from citizens of Russia (28), Uzbekistan (6), Armenia (5), Libya (3), China (2), and Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and Latvia (1 each). Persons granted temporary protection are guaranteed by the Law access to a whole range of economic and social rights – the right to residence, personal documents, the right to education, but also access to the labor market and health care in accordance with the regulations governing the rights of foreigners.


Social re-use of confiscated assets in Serbia

On 24 January, the OSCE organized the third national workshop on the social re-use of confiscated assets in Serbia. The event brought together representatives from the Ministry of Justice, the Republic Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime, civil society and other international organizations.

The workshop provided a platform for stakeholders to discuss key legislative and practical challenges for the social re-use of criminal assets, as well as how to tackle these challenges. Civil society representatives, including the DPNSEE Executive Director Milutin Milošević, stated that the lack of clear procedures to apply and receive assets for re-use from the government is a key issue. Moreover, transparency and overview of available assets is required for effective social re-use.

The workshop highlighted the importance of co-operation between civil society and government in fighting organized crime.

This activity was organized as part of the Strengthening the fight against transnational organized crime in South-Eastern Europe through improved regional co-operation in asset seizure, confiscation, management and re-use project, which is financially supported by Germany, Italy the United Kingdom and the United States.

Launching the project in Serbia

DPNSEE and project partners in Serbia (Prevent, Timok Youth Centre, Duga and Re Generation) invited possible partners from Serbia to a meeting to present the “Emergency support for the provision of HIV and Harm Reduction services among key populations in Ukraine and refugees in selected neighbouring countries” project. The meeting was held in the Palace Serbia, with the support from the national Office for Combating Drugs.

Project partners and the UNODC project officer Žana Glavendekić presented the background, aims and activities of the project, as well as the current situation in Ukraine, Russia and Serbia.

Participants, including those from Ministry of Health and Ministry of Interior, Institute for Public Health, Commissariat for Refugees and Migration, UNHCR office in Serbia and colleagues from the Philanthrophy member organisation discussed in details elements of importance for implementation of this important project.