“We were treated like animals.” Migrants, in search of safety, brave treacherous journeys

Publié: 4 septembre 2015 11:28 CET

By Tommaso Della Longa, IFRC

They come from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Thousands of migrants crossing through Serbia every week – families with children, the disabled, the elderly, the young – all hoping to make it further into Europe. Depending on where they are coming from and their financial resources, their journeys last anywhere from 15-48 days.

“We started the journey more than a month ago, I don't remember exactly. We walked for almost ten days, then we took every possible transportation: bus, taxi, boat, train. My dream now is to find a place where I will be safe and treated like a human being,” says a 21-year-old English teacher from Afghanistan upon arriving in Subotica in northern Serbia. “I'm living in a tent with some friends I met while travelling here. They are my new family. We passed through Iran, Turkey and Bulgaria. After Serbia, I would like to reach Denmark or Norway.”

When they reach Subotica, the migrants are greeted by the Red Cross of Serbia, which, through its local volunteers, is distributing basic food parcels, water, and hygiene items to the most vulnerable. Every day, volunteers find newcomers setting up small tents and temporary shelters at the abandoned brick factory where migrants rest a few hours before trying to cross the border.

It is a similar scene not far away at a reception centre in Kanjiza. Tired families rest, take a shower, grab something to eat from the supplies handed out by the Red Cross. The border to Hungary is just five kilometres away.

“I never imagined something like this,” says a 30-year-old man from the Gaza Strip. “I never in my life thought I would experience such a trip. My house in Gaza was destroyed during fighting. That’s when my wife and I decided to leave and go to a place without violence and bombs.”

An economist, the father-to-be is used to travelling abroad, but not in conditions so treacherous. “They told us 40 people would fit into the boat we were taking to Greece. They crammed in more than 100; men were in the hold, women and children were in the upper part. Ten hours later, and after several attempts, we drew close to the Greek shoreline. That’s when they literally threw us into the sea near some rocks which we then had to climb. One old man broke his legs. We were treated like animals, and we had to pay 2,000 Euros.”

His wife, who is pregnant, travelled before him and managed to make it to Austria. “I'm very worried she will deliver in the next weeks. I have to reach her as soon as possible.” Ashamed to be seen in such conditions, he does not want his photograph taken. As he finishes sharing his story, a Syrian friend arrives. They are going to try to cross the border. “I will try now to enter Hungary. My wife cannot wait anymore. I must be with her.”