By Jovana Gec | The Associated Press
HORGOS, Serbia—The snakes come out at night, and so do the mosquitoes.
There’s only one tap with running water in the makeshift refugee camp on Serbia’s border with Hungary, where hundreds fleeing war and poverty wait daily to cross over into the European Union (EU). No toilets, no showers, but plenty of uncertainty and desperation.
The refugees are from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other war-torn states who have decided to use the traditional Balkan migration route despite its closure in March, rather than trying the hazardous Mediterranean Sea crossing between Libya and Italy, where thousands daily risk their lives.
On the no man’s land between Serbia and Hungary, there’s little to fend off the scorching summer heat. A boy cries loudly as cold water is splashed on him and his mother rubs him with soap. Another small child and several other migrants stand by patiently, holding plastic water bottles or clothes they want to wash, as the runoff washes down a filthy gutter. Small tents are grouped in a dusty field, many with blankets spread over them to protect from the sun. Some lucky migrants are camped out under the rare trees on the field’s edge.
THE migrants have been camping outside the Hungarian barbed-wire fence—many for days or weeks—waiting for Hungarian authorities to allow them in. It’s a gamble: Hungary has been letting in only about 15 people a day from this camp—mostly families with small children. Starting on Tuesday, Hungarian authorities will apply even harsher rules designed to reduce the number of people seeking asylum in the EU nation to a minimum.
Migrants and refugees detained within 8 kilometers of the border will be taken to the Serbian side of the fence—the one visited by an Associated Press crew on Monday—where they will wait to make their requests for asylum with Hungarian authorities. Few are expected to get in.
The tighter rules are likely to increase the pileup of people on the border between Serbia and Hungary, where authorities said on Monday they have caught 17,062 migrants trying to illegally cross the border, so far, this year.
ONE Afghan couple has been at the Horgos camp for a week. They said they had fled their home more than a month ago because they both had worked for international organizations and received threats from the Taliban. Now they have no idea when or even if they will be allowed into Hungary.
“We don’t have the facilities, no shower, no toilets,” said Hameed Sayed, 28. “I didn’t take any shower for four days.” His wife Azada, 23, complained that “during the days it’s so hot, during the night it’s so cold.” She said the migrants have had to cope with mosquitoes, other biting insects and even snakes.
The couple said they had applied for entry into Hungary, but haven’t had any feedback. Sayed wanted to enter the EU legally and seek asylum, rather than try his luck with the surge of people-smugglers plying their trade along the Balkans.
More than 1 million people entered Europe last year and nations have been closing their borders since March to curb the influx.
ON Monday Serbian police said they arrested eight suspected people-smugglers as part of efforts to curb the illegal transfer of migrants toward Western Europe. The police said the smugglers were charging up to €1,200 ($1,340) to deliver each migrant from Serbia to Austria, via Hungary.
Ahmad Shahim arrived on Monday at the camp along with 11 family members, including his children, his sister’s children and their mother. The family had spent four months in Greece, and Shahim expressed hope they will not wait longer than 15 days to enter Hungary.
“I will write my name on the list, we are not sure,” he said as other family members unfolded a gray blanket in the dusty camp and sat down.
“European countries are mostly changing their laws,” he complained. “Maybe we will be pushed back to Macedonia or Greece.”
AID workers say many migrants in the camp are sick, particularly the children. Junaid Chakerzehi, from the Humanitarian Center for Integration and Tolerance group, said aid groups are also uncertain about the effects of the new Hungarian rules.
As aid workers distributed food packages, migrants lined up, many putting cloths on their heads to fend off the blazing sun. Other searched for shade in the tents or rested in makeshift hammocks spread between the trees.
Some children played with a small, light-colored dog named Rex. It’s owner, a 25-year-old from Afghanistan who gave only his first name, Baba, fearing retaliation against his relatives back home, said he had brought the dog over from Greece and hoped he could take it into Hungary along with his wife and two children.
“With Rex, we are five,” he said, smiling.
Image credits: AP