The refugee crisis in Europe has dominated international news for weeks, and with good reason. Britain’s Guardian newspaper is calling it the worst refugee crisis since WWII.
The 24/7 news cycle plus videos and cameras in every cell phone have provided image after agonizing image of the the horrific experiences of the refugees attempting to reach safety in the European Union.
We’ve been in Serbia over a week now, and our train and bus travel has brought us face-to-face with the grim realities of the crisis, as the refugees cross the country on their way north to Hungary and the EU. We’d seen photos and read accounts of the plight of the migrants, but as always, seeing events first hand drives it home in a very forceful way.
The suffering and confusion we’ve seen has raised all sorts of disturbing questions, and we’ve tried to educate ourselves about the causes of the mass migration as well as the measures each country is taking to deal with the refugees. And in our short time here we’ve seen how one country is dealing with the challenge.
What we’ve realized is that, understandably, each country must care for its own citizens first, and a huge influx of migrants is a colossal burden to bear. But the primary problem is that there’s been no effective overall coordination between the EU and non-EU countries (like Serbia). And this lack of cooperation is passed directly down the chain spreading more misery and uncertainty for the refugees.
“Europe is not organized to deal with it, because the European asylum system
has been extremely dysfunctional and in recent weeks completely chaotic.”
— Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner
For many of the refugees, Belgrade is a major stopover on their journey north. It’s a place to catch northbound buses and trains toward Budapest, Hungary.
There’s a tiny, triangular park next to the Belgrade bus station which has become a Refugee Tent City, jammed with family tents, and surrounded by many even less fortunate people sleeping unprotected on the ground. More disheartened families lined the walls of the station waiting for an uncertain future. And the only help we saw provided was a few portable toilets, and one white-coated aid worker standing alone at a card table.
So in Belgrade, if a refugee can buy a train or bus ticket, they’re allowed to board and travel north toward Hungary and the EU. But, you may have noticed in the news that Hungary is completing a 12-foot high, razor wire-topped fence all along its southern border with Serbia.
Waiting on the Border
We saw the desperate results of this “funneling people into a closed pipe” as we traveled farther north to Subotica, Serbia. The small, normally sleepy Subotica bus station is only a few miles from Hungary, and is the last bus stop before the border.
On the day of our visit, there were hundreds of refugees crowded in and around the station waiting for the chance to move farther north. So our question was: Where will they go, and what will they do when they’re turned back by Hungarian border guards?
We lived in Sudan in the mid-80s and witnessed the dreadful Eritrean Refugee Crisis when hundreds starved daily – an experience which left an indelible mark that remains today. So we aren’t naive about how complex these problems are nor how insurmountable they can appear.
Kudos to Germany for taking the lead to help hundreds of thousands of refugees. But the question we have is when will some country or organization step forward to take charge and get rescue efforts organized? Perhaps if they saw a crying child in a tent city things might change. Winter is at hand, and things can only get worse.
James & Terri
Update September 13: According to an ABC News report the railroad tracks used by refugees as a gateway to Hungary will be closed except when a train is approaching. After Tuesday, anyone caught crossing the Serbian-Hungarian border will be arrested.