Porin Hotel

The second day in Zagreb was full. I spent the morning on making the artcards, met and interviewed Nela at the Women’s Centre in the afternoon, and spent the evening in the company of Luka and other Are You Serious?​ volunteers. We went to Porin Hotel, an abandoned hotel newly turned into a refugee camp for some 300 people who were returned from Slovenian border, just a few meters short of Austria. These people were interviewed there and were not allowed to cross. In the process, some of them were separated from their family members who were interviewed separately and were allowed to cross.

Are You Serious? volunteers had brought some clothing for the camp residents so we entered with the donation boxes without security making a fuss. As I did in Vienna, I followed the sound of Farsi speaking to a group of people, introduced myself and entered a conversation with them. I was immediately surrounded by over 30 people, men, women, children, young and old. They wanted me to take pictures with them and of them, and when I told them I lived in Canada, they wanted to know how they could get to Canada. The immediate question for most of them was whether they could go to countries where there was work once they had been accepted as refugees in Croatia. I told them what little I knew about the refugee process and what I had heard earlier from Luka, that Croatia did not accept any refugees. I didn’t quite tell them that I had also heard that Croatia was bussing refugees to Serbia. Out of here, out of mind.

The state of desperation among people was palpable. They have not been given any information as to what will happen to them. Apparently this camp is operated by Red Cross but the officials are not there often and the residents have not been able to talk to anybody. And they haven’t seen anyone from UNHCR. They are kept in complete darkness about official plans for them and their rights. They kept talking about the hardships they had endured over the past few months. Even women talked about being beaten by Slovenian police. Some had been taken into detention.

They wanted to talk about why they left their countries, why they were not safe there. A young Afghani woman who had traveled alone said in her area Taliban and Daesh abducted young women and girls, that she felt unsafe and she had decided to leave after having spent many months in self-imposed prison inside her house following her father’s capture by Taliban who had amputated his legs. A young Iranian woman who was traveling with her 3 small daughters spoke about the traumatic journey that had cost her everything she owned. She wanted to know why they were so inhumanely treated at the borders. Some young men had attempted suicide.

As I was standing there listening and recording their voices, I had nothing to say to them. I was just witnessing and recording voices because they wanted to be heard by someone, anyone, outside the camp. I didn’t want to pull the camera out because of the security, and true enough as soon as I pulled my camera out the trouble with the security began. The security guards, an older man and a youngish guy, kept walking around the group congregated around me and when they saw my very small camera they got nervous and asked us to leave.

I was trying to facilitate a conversation with Luka because people had many questions about the process that I could not answer, and Luka was on the phone with Croatian Peace Studies folks who’ve been working with refugees for over 15 years to get legal advice about what rights the people had. When the security asked us to leave the building, we tried to take a few people with us outside so we could have the conversation there, but the security did not allow them to leave even though the residents were technically free to stay out until 11pm. The security had already called the police, so we left and promised to return the next day. As we were leaving, a young Afghani guy slipped into my hand a piece of paper with his mobile number on it.

Today is the next day. I canceled a meeting in the morning and am waiting to hear from Luka to see if we can go back to the camp with someone from Croatian Peace studies who can give some legal information to the people. The conditions of people continue to get worse as I travel southward. As Luka put it, Europe accepted the first several hundred thousands of refugees who had money. These people have nothing left after they paid for their voyage. Trafficking hasn’t stopped, of course. It’s just that it now costs more. Want to go to Germany in a week? €3500-4000.

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