Only 3 months after the horrible death of a pushed back 6-year old girl Madina, for whose death nobody has still been held accountable, her family has again been exposed to illegal and cruel treatment of the Croatian state. In the night of March 8, a 17-year old girl sent us a disturbing call for help. She notified AYS that, along with another family, her family is in the Croatian territory, in the village Strošinci. She also said they are very cold and that they wish to ask for international protection in Croatia. They group had 11 children along, among them 2 babies. They asked us to contact the police on their behalf and notify them about the intention to seek asylum in Croatia. After we asked about their names, it was evident that they were Madina’s family, confirmed later by them. We have informed the police (local police station by phone and the official email contact), the UNHCR, Croatian Law Centre and the Ombudswoman. Although Madina’s family feared meeting with the police again due to fear of being pushed back again, realizing it was the only way to ask for asylum in Croatia, they approached the officers in the area and said they wanted to ask for asylum. According to the family’s statements, instead of answering their demands for medical assistance for the children and providing the option of asking for international protection, the officers reportedly laughed when they saw who was informed about this, they searched through their belongings and went through their messages in the phone in detail, later on letting them go back to Serbia. What strikes us particularly is that the push back happened in a very similar way as it did in the night when their 6-year old daughter died on the train tracks: both families were forced to return to Serbia with their small children.
Croatian media have reported the emergence of a new ‘Balkan route’ used by migrants to reach western Europe without passing through Macedonia and Serbia. Middle Eastern migrants have opened up a new ‘Balkan route’ in their attempt to find a better life in western Europe after the traditional route through Macedonia and Serbia was closed. This is according to a report by Zagreb newspaper Jutarnji list. From Greece, the new route takes them through Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia.
This post is based on fieldwork I conducted in Serbia between July-August 2017. I conducted thirty semi-structured interviews and five weeks of participant observation with male Afghan refugees in order to understand how they are coping with their limited mobility due to closed borders along the Balkan route and restrictive asylum procedures. Despite the precarious state of limbo that these men are living in while they attempt clandestine border crossings, many of them claimed that life in Serbia was better than in Afghanistan. The men I met invariably used the term ‘refugees’ to describe themselves, despite not having been granted this status. To respect their self-identification, I will use this word to refer to them in this post. The accompanying photographs were taken by photographer Jenny Brover and are used with her permission. All names in this piece have been changed to respect the privacy of those I interviewed.
15 Kilometer sind es von der Kleinstadt Sid bis zur kroatischen Grenze. Man lässt die leerstehenden Fabrikhallen am Bahnhof links liegen, kreuzt die Bahnschienen. Ist dann auf der Landstraße lange umgeben von winterbraunen Äckern und weitem Himmel. Läuft durch das Dorf Batrovci, wo die Zeit seit den Jugoslawien-Kriegen stehengeblieben scheint, vorbei an Häusern ohne Putz, Schuppen aus Plastikplanen und knorrigen Apfelbäumen. Schlägt sich nach der Brücke, unter der die Lkws in Schlangen auf die Grenzkontrollen warten, in den Wald. Durchquert ein paar Meter Gestrüpp. Wandert dann die letzten Kilometer zwischen Buchen, das Licht scheint jetzt im Winter auch an grauen Tagen milchig-hell durch die blattlosen Äste.
Während der großen Flüchtlingsbewegung, war der kleine mazedonische Grenzort Gevgelija ein Brennpunkt. Heute ist es hier wieder ruhig, doch das Thema beschäftigt die Bewohner weiter. Auch Giorgij Kostadinov hat viele Erinnerungen. Wer mit ihm reden möchte, der muss sich erst einmal bücken. Der schwarzhaarige Mazedonier ist Kioskverkäufer und sitzt hinter einem kleinen, rechteckigen Fenster.
The refugees in Serbia are desperate, they have been way too many months, some of them even more than a year living in camps, with no rights, no papers and no options of being free citizens. They are in a limbo in Serbia, the European borders are closed and they get no response to their asylum demands. On December 25th, they hung on to one of those dreams that all humans need to believe. That day, refugees coming from the whole Serbia decided to start a peaceful protest in the border with Tovarnik, the Croatian border. There was the rumor among them that during Christmas, since these are the days of peace, love and hope, the EU would open the borders again. That would have been a step closer for them to be free citizens. One may think this is an utopia, but in desperate situations, people tend to believe in miracles.
Serbia has extradited to Turkey a Kurdish political activist who had been seeking asylum, a police official said on Tuesday, defying a recommendation by the United Nations’ Committee against Torture. Cevdet Ayaz requested asylum in Serbia earlier this year after fleeing Turkey, where he had been sentenced to 15 years in prison over alleged activities against the constitution, the Belgrade-based N1 TV quoted his lawyer Ana Trkulja as saying.