Refugees’ passage to Europe
“We want go!” the voices of refugees sound behind the gates of the camp in Opatovac, Croatia, 10km away from the Serbian border.
For nights, before the camp was established, refugees had been sleeping in the open – in and around the train station in Tovarnik, a small Croatian border village. They were all desperately waiting for the train to take them further on their journey. “When is the train coming?” was the question on everyone’s lips.
Walking around the station at night was a challenge. The tracks, the platforms, all the area around were packed with people trying to get some rest. A few had tents, some had blankets, others a camp fire to keep them warm. Some had none. The cold night wind was not on their side. Temperatures are dropping this month, making the refugees’ passage even more difficult, especially for those travelling with children.
“It’s like a prison here”, said Nydal, a 30 year-old Syrian refugee from Damascus, while rubbing his hands against the flames. The comparison comes from someone who had spent four years in a Syrian government prison. “Because I did not like Assad”, the young man added. He wants to reach Germany, but first he wants to be on tomorrow’s train out of here. Nydal’s family left with another train. He did not manage to board it. He cannot contact them without a SIM card, but he hopes they will be reunited at the next train stop. Except he does not know where the train is going. Depending on latest developments and what borders are open, it might take him to either Hungary or Slovenia.
More than 50,000 people entered Croatia in little more than a week. Over 2,000 refugees are believed to cross every day into the country that has now become the main point of entry into the European Union for refugees.
Thousands were filling the train station in Tovarnik when refugees heard the next train was arriving. Between them and the tracks where the train would stop, a long cordon of Croatian policemen. They had the task to board the refugees in order. Some pushing, some cries, some faces distorted by the panic to be left behind, but they managed for a while. Until only two carts remained unoccupied. Then desperation, frustration, perhaps the heavy rain as well, had their say. Refugees stormed the empty carts, getting in, belongings, children and all, through the windows. More pushing, more cries, more faces in fear.
The train left. Nydal was among the lucky one to be on it. He was happy.
The dirt road cutting through the cornfields between the Serbian town of Sid and Tovarnik in Croatia bared evidence of the refugees’ passage. Old clothes and shoes, food and diapers were scattered on the sides of the path. They had arrived in large numbers and now squeezed onto some 800m of roadway, the “no man’s land” between the two checkpoints at the border. Waiting again, this time to be put on the buses and taken to the camp in Opatovac.
The camp in Opatovac was established in one day. It can hold 4,000 people. The camp is meant as a welcoming step, but refugees see it more like a prison – an obstacle on their way to the desired destinations, with Germany ranking highest. Croatia is already overwhelmed with the high influx of refugees crossing the border from Serbia. There is a lot of concern regarding how the country will cope with the increasing number of refugees in the long run, as well as the possibility of a blockage from this point onwards, to Slovenia and Hungary.
Fatigue and frustration grow among the refugees. So much so, that there were cases where some people decided to end their journeys and request asylum in Croatia. “We are too tired”, said a group of Syrians justifying their decision. But the vast majority wants to move on to the countries in which they believe they have a chance to rebuild their life.
“We want go!”, they are chanting at the gates of the camp.