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Serbia vaccinates migrants amid rising COVID-19 cases

KRANAKA, Serbia (AP) – Bashir Ahmad Shirzai has lived through the wars in Afghanistan, survived a grueling journey to Europe, and has no plans to bet on the coronavirus.

He was one of the first to open his COVID-19 shooting range on Friday, as Serbia became the first European country to vaccinate people living in its refugee camps and shelters, according to UN officials.

“We need to get vaccinated for our health,” Shirzai said. “The virus is taking many lives.”

About 530 migrants and asylum seekers have been registered across Serbia for vaccination. The first recipients received the first blows of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday in a narrow camp in the suburbs of Belgrade, Serbia.

“Today is a very special day, because we have vaccinations for refugees and asylum seekers in the centers,” said Francesca Bonelli, UNHCR Representative in Serbia. “It really is a strong sign of the support that Serbia provides to refugees, it is a very good example of the inclusion of refugees in Serbian society.”

Thousands of refugees, economic migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia, remained in Serbia and neighboring Bosnia as they waited for opportunities to cross the border into EU member Croatia to continue their journey to wealthy Western countries.

Serbia has carried out the maximum coronavirus per capita in each European country, in part because the government has worked to ensure the supply of vaccines from Russia and China. But the Balkan country, like the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, is facing another onslaught of confirmed COVID-19 deaths.

Migrants, many of whom live in the open or in camps where the virus is easily spread, are considered one of the most vulnerable groups to the epidemic. The camp in neighboring Bosnia caught fire this month.

“Vaccination is really possible because they live in collective centers. It is very difficult to keep a physical distance. It is very difficult to really control the outbreak, so this is a really great opportunity for the migrant population to get this vaccine,” said Abebayehu Assefa Mengistu. : said the representative of the World Health Organization in Serbia.

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AP writer Dusan Stojanovic made his contribution to Belgrade.

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Follow AP Global Migration Coverage https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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