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Serbia: One year from the closure of the “Balkan route”

Tuesday 21 March 2017, by siawi3

Source: Zene u crnom, 21.03.2017
17:01 (1 hour ago)

Written by: Mirko Medenica, Women in Black,
in March 2017

One year from the closure of the “Balkan route”

Closure of the borders: The so-called “Balkan route”, which also passes through Serbia, form escalation of refugee crisis in the spring of 2015, up to March 2016, was passed by between 700,000 and 800,000 refugees. “Balkan Route” is closed at midnight on March 8th 2016, with closing of the Croatian, Hungarian, Serbian and Macedonian border for further passage of refugees. Tens of thousands of refugees were “trapped” along the route.

Number of refugees: According to UNHCR, with the addition of refugees who are outside of the official camps, the total number of refugees in Serbia is estimated at about 10,000. Of these, approximately 6,500 are located in camps. In the first months after the closure of the borders for the free passage, refugees are nevertheless managed to cross the border and arrive at their destinations. It is estimated that since March 2016, “Balkan route” passed around 150,000 refugees, the largest number in the first few months after the closure of the route.

The militarization of borders: As time passed, there were more and more obstacles . An unprecedented militarization of borders, in all the Balkan countries, has led to the current number of refugees who manage to enter Serbia and leave it in the direction of their desired countries to be no more than a few hundred per month. “Price” for the passage of refugees increased several times in every sense. Smuggling channels, often linked to state structures and local criminals have continued to operate, but their effectiveness is dramatically reduced. A huge number of refugees has repeatedly tried unsuccessfully to cross the border. The reactions of the police and other state agencies were more and more brutal.

Systematic terror against refugees: Crossing the Hungarian border, as a rule ended grasping by Hungarian police and the military, and brutal torture and deportation back to Serbia. The amount of these procedures are such that without doubt, we can talk about systemic torture by the Hungarian authorities. Cases of physical torture of refugees by the police are recorded in Croatia as well, but on a smaller scale. The refugees were deported from Slovenia and Romania, but there have been no recorded cases of police torture.

Unlawful deportation: What is common to all these countries, as well as for Serbia is the large number of illegal deportations. Despite the fact that the refugees who were caught in these countries, during the arrest, seek for asylum, the police generally ignored their request and mainly, avoiding any procedures, returning refugees in the country from which they came. Although the Serbian authorities have every right to express their protest against such actions of the authorities of neighboring countries, they did not. The reason lies in the fact that the Serbian government did the same. A large number of refugees is beyond any procedure, deported from Serbia to Macedonia and Bulgaria. There have also been cases when the refugees who are registered and who respected all the procedures were taken from camps, driven to the border line, where they were ordered to cross the border. The absence of any reaction of state authorities, on allegations of illegal deportations, argues that these were not exceptional cases and arbitrariness of police officers and soldiers in the field, but more an organized actions. All this shows that there is a broader plan of repression of refugees, which obviously can be concluded from the absence of reactions of states to the illegal deportation to their territory.

Duplicity of Serbian authorities: The relationship of the Serbian authorities continued to be a hypocrite. On the one hand they showed the world their “human” face, and on the other hand are secretly carried out the persecution and deportation of refugees. EU funds and other foreign donors, enhanced the capacity for accepting refugees. However much time it took to state authorities to became aware of the new situation that refugees will not, as until now, leave the country within 1-2 days. Only recently, refugees who live in camps for many months get some other facilities, in addition to basic, accommodation and food. Almost the entire burden of assisting refugees fell to foreign organizations and local NGOs.

Fighting for survival in the center of Belgrade: Especially critical situation is in Belgrade, where over a thousand refugees staying in abandoned warehouses near the main bus station. This group of refugees, which consisted almost mostly by men from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Africa, due to the fear of illegal deportation, chose to reside in this place, and not, as Serbian authorities were represented in “peace and security” of the camps. In November 2016, the Serbian authorities unofficially banned all organizations to help these refugees, in any way, and especially how it is written in the letter of the relevant ministry “to give them food, clothes, shoes ...”. In this way, this huge group of people remained without the help of major international organizations, while the government assistance they never had. They are left on their own, and the only help they received is from local and foreign organizations, volunteers and activists. These people with superhuman efforts managed to survive the winter, which this year was very sharp, with almost 30 days of continuous temperature below 0 degrees, practically without basic living conditions. Although very poor, together they manage to create the minimum conditions for the life of these people, but now, after winter, a new danger looming, and it is the demolition of the abandoned warehouses in which they reside, for the sake of building the controversial project “Belgrade Waterfront”.