(Opatovac, Croatia) Where are you from? Syria, meet the majority of asylum seekers en route to northern Europe. But the Syrians are not the only ones who are desperate to flee their devastated country. There are also many Iraqis. And Afghans, like those our reporter met at the new Opatovac of transit camp in southern Croatia.
They are five guys, cousins and friends. He who speaks English better Bakhram Sakhizada called, he just turned 20 and he just landed his engineering degree at the University of Kabul.
But in Afghanistan, there is no work, and if there is no work, it is because there is war, explains Bakhram, met at the new Opatovac transit camp established in 24 hours by the Croatian authorities after a week of chaotic outbursts on the border with Serbia.
“I want to leave this place, it’s been three days since I could not call my family, I want to go to Germany, I can walk.”
an Afghan 20 years
In one week, 29,000 people crossed the border post between the Serbian town of Sid its Croatian neighbor, Tovarnik. Since yesterday, no question of letting them settle in the streets around the train station. Croatian police just pick directly at the border and take them by bus to the camp Opatovac, installed on the ground of an old abandoned oil company.
Rows of tents, sleeping mattresses, latrines, medical stations, showers – and clusters of men, women and children waiting to hit the road.
This is where I meet Bakhram and cousins and friends with whom he traveled from exactly one month and twenty days.
Bakhram lived in Kabul, but is originally from the Afghan province of Ghazni, home to a large minority Hazara – Shiite Muslims from Afghanistan, persecuted by the Taliban.
He fled Afghanistan to escape the insecurity that destroys the economy of his country. “Even in Kabul, life has become too dangerous.” His route was longer and more complex than that of Syrian refugees. Afghanistan, he joined Pakistan, then Iran and then Turkey before reaching Greece. The worst was the passage from Pakistan to Iran, where the small group was a victim of an attempted scam. Then, 22 hours walking in the mountains to Turkey.
Bakhram and his companions arrived Sunday to Opatovac camp, where dozens of large green canvas tents house the migrants.
Here more questions to wander into town to recharge a cell phone or buy a pack of cigarettes. Yesterday, some 1,500 people had arrived in the camp intended to be a crossing to Hungary. Theoretically, it is a 24 hour stopover. But with the steady stream of newcomers, the stay could be extended. We congestion risk.
The camp is protected by a barrier that migrants are not allowed to cross, except for getting on the bus that will make them take the next step of their journey. The nights are cool these days, and many people met yesterday complained of the cold. But above all, they are eager to reach their destination. Or, for the majority, Germany, where Bakhram is expected by his younger brother aged 16, arrived a few weeks earlier.
“I want to leave this place, it’s been three days since I could not call my family, I want to go to Germany, I can walk,” the young man protested, vowing that if his country, Afghanistan, was not torn by a civil war, he never would have left.
In the eyes of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) United Nations, 80% of current migrants fleeing war-torn countries. Among these countries, there is Afghanistan.
Even if there is a temporary stop on the long road of exile camp yesterday Opatovac offered much better conditions for asylum seekers that the chaotic train station Tovarnik and its surrounding streets. They have access to sanitation facilities, medical services and, above all, a canvas roof over the head.
The Croatian authorities took things in hand after a week of massive and continuous arrivals, welcomed yesterday Ralph Gruenert, coordinator of UNHCR emergency operations.
But the game of ping-pong between the European countries that are passing the responsibility of hosting hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers is not finished yet. Yesterday, the Minister of the Interior of Croatia, Ranko Ostojic, called on Greece to stop let this human flood unprecedented since World War II to pass it to the rest of Europe. He will surely question today at the meeting of interior ministers of the European Union.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that the vacuum Greece’s refugee camps and sending people to Croatia, via Macedonia and Serbia,” argued the Minister Ostojic.
After attempts to block the borders, countries that are on the road this vast exodus, including Hungary, have reopened to passages controlled via road corridors where transit buses filled with migrants.
But neither the cool nights of the early autumn or less mild sea conditions nor the risk of getting stuck somewhere between Greece and Germany are slow this massive human displacement. Yesterday morning, about 200 asylum seekers were transported from the camp Opatovac to the Hungarian border. At the same time, 2500 others were waiting to enter Croatia.