Tuesday

21st Mar 2023

Tovarnik: A new hotspot in the EU migrant crisis

  • The 1pm train didn't come (Photo: Antony ***)

Hussam Ehsan, a 28-year-old Syrian economist, lights another cigarette while waiting next to train tracks for a ride to western Europe.

He’s one of over 1,000 refugees stuck, on Thursday (17 September), at the tiny station in Tovarnik - a Croatian town over the border from Serbia, which has become the new hotspot in Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since WWII.

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They made their way overnight to Croatia from Serbia, after violent scenes on Wednesday at the Hungarian-Serbian border, which was closed on Tuesday.

According to official figures, 5,500 asylum seekers in total entered Croatia over the past two days.

In Tovarnik, families with small children, as well as jaded adults, wait, sleeping, or chatting in the shade, while surrounded by Croatian regular police and by anti-riot squads.

The local Red Cross provided water, diapers, and tins of food, but in limited rations and supplies are running low.

The situation was initially calm. But people are beginning to get hungry, as well as impatient due to lack information, with chants of “Trains! Trains!” erupting more and more often.

The police had told them a train would take them to Zagreb at 1pm local time.

The exhausted people lined up next to the tracks, in scorching autumn heat. But the train didn’t come.

“Why don’t they let us go?”, said one Syrian woman, who was crying. “This is Europe in 2015?”, she asked EUobserver.

Hussam

Hussam and his friends were turned away from the Hungarian border the day before the violence broke out.

They learned from friends on Facebook and WhatsApp that Croatia is open.

“Believe me, Hungary will lose nothing if they [also] open the borders. We just want to pass [through]”, he told this website. “Closing borders just makes the journey more dangerous for kids, as people turn to smugglers”.

“We respect Hungary ... We don’t want to make trouble for them,” he said, adding: “We escaped war. We don’t want another war”.

Hussam, who studied banking, is from Homs.

He says he took part in some of the first peaceful rallies against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in 2011 before being forced to flee to Damascus.

He then fled Syria one month ago, paying a smuggler $1,250 to take him, by boat, from Turkey to Greece.

He said he has cousins in Sweden, who encouraged him to try to come to Europe, saying: “Europeans are nice”.

He wants to go to Germany, before deciding where to stay for good.

“We’re not here to take money from Europe. We’re here to work. We’re not looking for money. We’re looking for a future”, he said.

Majd

The Syrians this website talked to in Tovarnik said a quarter of the people there are Syrians, while others are from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

They said Iraqis often pose as Syrians in hope of better treatment.

For his part, Majd, a 25 year-old Syrian mechanic, and his family of nine, are running from Islamic State.

They said their village in north Syria, Al-Shaitat, was captured by the radical Islamists who killed everybody who opposed them.

They said some of their cousins who were beheaded by IS fighters “for having a different opinion”.

They declined to give their real names, as Majd has a sister who is still in Syria and they fear for her life.

“I hope where we go there is democracy, freedom, and a good life,” Majd’s mother said, after a night spent sleeping on the rugged ground at the Tovarnik station.

“We’re heading for Germany,” she added. “We lost everything in Syria. Their country [Germany] will help us”.

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