This is not the refugee story that I planned to post today but it is late here in Serbia and I want to be sure of the facts of the story about Hiat. There were several of us meeting with her so I am sending the story to them to ensure its accuracy. So, in this post I want to tell you a bit about how the refugees leave Serbia and how they are treated here. In a separate post I will tell you about a man named Ahmad, with whom I spent some time today.
Today we traveled to a transition point where refugees prepare to leave Serbia and enter Croatia. Each time the refugees enter or leave a country they must pass checkpoints. Here in Serbia every refugee is interviewed, photographed and fingerprinted; even the little children. The way the refugees go from Serbia to Croatia is by train, but they have been in buses since leaving Athens. As they approach the border between Serbia and Croatia the buses they are riding in pull off the highway into a place that looks a little like a rest area on the interstate. This particular area is not like ours in the U.S. The area is a waiting area for the buses. They wait for word that the train has arrived at the station and is ready for them. When that happens, they ride the 15 miles to the station to board the train.
While at the “rest area” women and children can go in and sleep in the motel, get medical attention, pick up warm weather gear, receive food and let the kids play. The children are like all other kids in the world, they run play chase bubbles that are blown and laugh. They don’t understand what is going on other than they are on a trip.
The hotel was purchased by the Serbian Government for this purpose and is jointly run by the Balkan Centre for Migration (BCM) and Catholic Relief Services. There are translators to help people understand what is going on. There is coordination with other aid groups that are trying to help the refugees as best they can. The place is exceptionally busy. The medical clinic – basically two small rooms and two women doctors have seen just over 9,000 patients since July 2015. The ailments range from respiratory and intestinal issues to a few baby deliveries. The doctors are always seeing patients. There are a few lawyers who can help people try to understand their refugee status and where they might be allowed to immigrate. In the last year about 17,000 people have received direct legal or medical help. The hardest part is uncertainty, the refugees might have to stay at the area for a few hours or a couple of days.
When the train is ready, the refugees board the buses for the short trip to the station. When arriving at the train station the refugees are interviewed again to ensure they are Syrian, Afghans or Iraqis. Only those nationalities are allowed to proceed into Croatia. The others can stay for three days in Serbia or return to Greece. In either country they can apply for asylum, but it is rarely granted.
Once on the train, the refugees are taken into Croatia where they will get off the train and enter a camp to wait to travel across Croatia. The trip from the station in Serbia to the camp is 15 miles. Essentially, the refugees might wait hours or days; endure uncertainty about where they are heading next and why, go through interviews and get documented, ride a bus and train to move 15 miles. Some of the reasons why a person would endure all of this will be explained in my next post.
The work of BCM and CRS is truly fantastic. They respect the dignity if each person, provide what is needed and keep them informed of what is going on; much better than we would get for simply a delayed flight in the U.S!