Spent a few hours yesterday and several hours today with the good folks at Info Park in Belgrade, right outside the bus station. The park is refugee central. A smaller park nearby has been dubbed Afghani Park. There are groups of people, many young men and many families, in or around the park. I spoke with a 16-year-old from Afghanistan yesterday. He had no money, no family with him, and no phone. Hasn’t talked to his family since he left two months ago.
There are young men from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sumalia, and oh, even a Russian political refugee who is a well-known persona in the park. Info Park is a hut built with particle board with enough space for a few people and several boxes. Some meters away is the Red Cross. Refugee Aid Serbia takes over the Info Park hut from 6-8 pm to give out food. Everybody serves food. There are piles of clothes and shoes too, and about 5 minutes walk from the park, in a make-shift camp, a place for people to hang out, take shower if they need and get a change of clothes. There are several hostels nearby also, where the few people who still have money left spend the nights. Most of them are family groups with women and kids. There are Roma people who live in or around the park too. And the homeless. Info Park is a hub for all who need help. Including the Swedish couple, tourists, who stopped by to ask for directions.
The Info Park staff help everybody with equal care and kindness. Everybody except the smugglers and some taxi drivers who ‘kidnap’ newly arrived people and take them on rides to false promise lands. Info Park is also the headquarter for the info war. They try to tell people that they don’t have to pay the smugglers and the cab drivers, that they can buy bus tickets themselves and get to where they want to go way more cheaply and safely. The one thing they can’t guarantee is that people will get to Germany or Austria or any other “destination country.” Neither can the smugglers, but often they win the war because, well, they make promises whether or not they intend or can deliver.
Today was a roller-coaster day. The Kurdish Iraqi family I met in Subatica and wrote about in my post on March 29th, are now at a border. There is a group of about 30 people. They haven’t been allowed to cross into Hungary. They are literally at the border fence. The Serbian police has pushed them back. There are people who manage to cross into Hungary. The way to do it is to pay the cab drivers and the smugglers who in turn pay the border guards who let people through into the transit container. What happens after that? I don’t know. We have not received news from people who crossed. But you have to have money to cross. The group stuck at the border has no money.
I got a message from one of them today calling for help, accompanied with a few pictures of the group and of the kids sleeping on wet ground. Communicating with them through Google translator at first, and then once I get to Info Park through their Arabic translator, we tried to counsel them to go to a nearby camp to take shelter and rest and get some food. They refused. They want to cross. All of us who got involved this morning – the Info Park, Red Cross, and the photographer who met them along with me last Saturday – are counseling them to get to a place of safety. They want to cross. We had nothing more to say. And nothing more we could do. They don’t want to go back. They want to go forward. Those who’ve closed the borders bear the responsibility. People can’t be contained if they are compelled to move. Closed borders have not stopped people from moving. It’s just that the road has become way more dangerous and the more expensive. Guess what the costs are, who pays and who benefits.