Rigardu e.V. was active for almost 1.5 years in Subotica and at times Šid on the Serbian-Hungarian or Serbian-Croatian border. In July 2018, we handed over the shower system that we set up there and the distribution of so-called non-food items (NFIs) to the Spanish organization Escuela con Alma.
Even though we are not active on the ground at the moment, we follow the developments and look with concern at the weather conditions, the associated difficulties and the worsening situation for refugees on the ground.
Leo and other activists* have been in Serbia for the last few weeks and have written a report that we are happy to publish to give an update from Serbia, a place we are still very attached to. The following article already appeared on Pro Asyl and now on our blog.
The situation of refugees in Serbia
Shortly after the turn of the year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announces the results of its surveys of the number of refugees worldwide in the first half of 2018 in the usual manner. 20 percent fewer asylum applications were received for Germany, which leads the German UNHCR representative Dominik Bartsch to the conclusion that the refugee crisis is taking place elsewhere, for example in countries such as Bangladesh or Lebanon. Without belittling the extremely difficult situation in these countries far from the EU, the situation on the EU’s south-eastern borders in the Balkans resembles a humanitarian crisis.
General situation in Serbia
For Serbia, the UNHCR counted almost 4500 refugees in the second half of December 2018, most of whom would like to enter the EU but are denied entry. Many of them are stuck in the official state camps without any perspective, as the economically weak Serbia offers them no way out. Some give up in desperation and surrender to their fate, others try with all their might to cross the border fence and move on to Western Europe. Some of the refugees report violence and theft in the Serbian camps. They leave the official accommodation and move into abandoned buildings near the border, where they have to live under degrading conditions.
Nearly 100 refugees in Subotica and near Horgoš
While in the summer months of recent years numerous of such improvised and self-organised shelters in northern Serbia were used as starting points for daily disputes with the EU border regime, in Subotica and its surroundings only two locations of this kind remained during these winter months. 50 to 60 people are currently waiting in dilapidated buildings on the railway station grounds of the small Serbian town and 30 to 40 other refugees live in abandoned barns near the border village of Horgoš. Most of them are young men from Afghanistan and between 15 and 30 years old. In sub-zero temperatures and regular snowfall, people in the station buildings warm themselves by the fire and complain about sleepless nights because blankets and sleeping bags in the draughty rooms do not provide sufficient warmth. Drinking water must be procured with canisters from a public well, and there is no connection to the electricity supply.
Hardly any local support structures available
The majority of the refugees lack suitable equipment for the extreme climatic conditions. They wear thin sweaters and walk through the snow in flip-flops. They receive no support from the majority of the local population. Only the small Spanish NGO Escuela Con Alma is there with a few people and works daily to provide enough sleeping bags, blankets, jackets and winterproof shoes. In addition, several times a week the supporters* bring food, drinking water and car batteries to charge the mobile phones in the remote accommodation near Horgoš.
Push back experiences until shortly before the Austrian border
While everyone is waiting for the next suitable moment for a new departure, they have the images of all the failed attempts in their minds. The reports of some refugees clearly show with what consequence Hungary has been pursuing the practice of illegal rejections (so-called “push backs”) for months. The Hungarian authorities are not only concentrating on the immediate Hungarian-Serbian border area. 20-year-old Khialay [name changed] reports that he was apprehended by the Hungarian police only 6 kilometres before the Hungarian-Austrian border and was nevertheless deported back to Serbia on the same day. Others tell of miles of walks on foot inland. But they, too, were immediately deported after their arrest or held for hours at police stations without access to food, drink or sanitary facilities and then returned to Serbia. Some also had to hand over their sleeping bags to the Hungarian police. The Hungarian authorities always denied the question of the right to stay and the asylum procedure. Instead, refugees also report violence and threats by the police. If they are caught three times, this will have harsher consequences.
Illegal practice of Hungarian police tolerated by EU
Only a few weeks ago secret video recordings of illegal rejections by the Croatian police at the Croatian-Bosnian border became known. The same database (Border Violence Monitoring) that published the videos also documents 32 such cases in the border regions near Subotica and Horgoš . However, the reports of many fugitives suggest a large number of unreported cases, as there is no systematic and organised recording of the incidents. The regular violations of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 33 of the Geneva Refugee Convention by the Hungarian authorities are now also known in the rest of the EU, and yet they are tolerated. The Federal Government is pleased with the decreasing number of asylum applications, although it has to owe this development among other things to illegal practices by national police units at the EU external borders.
The long wait is never over
Nevertheless, the young refugees in Subotica and Horgoš do not give up. They want to keep trying, although they have been doing so for months or even years. In Horgoš some already spend their second winter, at the station in Subotica several already stay for some months. In Serbia they have no perspective and their current living conditions are so catastrophic that they see the road to the EU as the only way out. Most people cannot imagine a return to Afghanistan because of personal persecution stories or the general danger of war and assassinations.
Moritz von Galen und Leonie Krügener (Escuela con Alma)
Written by Leo