HORGOS, SERBIA – More than 300 migrants in Belgrade marched toward Hungary’s border with Serbia on Tuesday, appealing for European nations to let them in.
An estimated 6,000 people are stranded in Serbia due to the border closures, most of whom fled countries such as Afghanistan, Iran and Syria. Though Hungary currently admits around 30 people per day from Serbia, most refugees and migrants are essentially gridlocked, with nowhere to go.
“Now there’s a stalemate, and people who are coming are not going to get in. Nobody seems to have an answer as to how it will improve in light of Hungary’s closure over the last couple of months,” said Albert Grain, the volunteer coordinator for Refugee Aid Miksaliste, a nongovernmental organization in Belgrade providing assistance to migrants.
According to Grain, about 65 percent of people they receive are from Afghanistan. Thirty-six-year-old Marzia and her husband left Afghanistan with their three daughters because of the ethnic and religious discrimination they faced as Shiite Muslims. “Every day it’s becoming worse and worse,” said her husband, adding that they will try to reach Western Europe using smugglers.
“The main problem for vulnerable groups like families is the lack of accommodation and the lack of a safe space, where they can rest even for a couple of hours,” said Grain. Like Marzia and her family, the majority of migrants sleep in these two parks on cardboard, covering themselves with blankets provided by aid organizations.
Faced with overcrowded camps with poor facilities, where people wait for extended periods hoping to be admitted into Hungary, people are increasingly turning toward smugglers.
“The conditions of the transit zones, the lack of adequate shelters, hygiene, proper water systems and showers are creating increasing problems with skin conditions and gastrointestinal diseases,” said Medecins Sans Frontieres humanitarian affairs officer, Francois Tillette de Mautort, at the Horgos border camp, where 60 percent of the occupants are women and children, most of them waiting an opportunity to cross the border.
“The world has forgotten about Afghanistan because our country has been at war for 40 years. [First] Russia, then the Taliban, now Daesh [ISIS] and the Taliban, are all in my country,” said Mohammad Hanif, who left Afghanistan six months ago with his wife and four children, and now lives in the Horgos camp. Hanif was an employee at Kabul’s Northgate Hotel, which was attacked by the Taliban in August this year.
Many of these families “don’t see any futures in their home countries because even if these countries are not at war in this moment or involved in a conflict, they’re all coming from countries with histories of conflict and violence,” said Tatjana Ristic, who works with Save the Children in Belgrade.
Save the Children provides a child-friendly space and a teenage corner where Ristic said children and their families can relax and feel like they’re at home. “Because we are working with children in distress, children who went through traumatic experiences, we provide a space where they rest, relax, feel safe and also have a chance to be children again so that they can play and express themselves as they want to, in their way,” she added.
Refugee Aid Miksaliste is one of the Belgrade-based organizations serving as a distribution and integration center. From distribution of non-food items such as clothing, shoes, hygiene supplies and blankets, to providing “safe” spaces for mothers and minors, as well as computers, showers and various workshops, the organization covers a range of asylum seekers’ needs. They also provide meals to about 350 and 400 migrants a day.
Recounting his experience of arriving in Greece by boat only to find out that the borders had been closed, Hanif asks: “Why did you allow the women and the children in, and then close the borders?”