What really happened and how did it look like running from war in Syria, from the moment people had to leave their home, until they got to their desired destination in Europe? We'll try to answer that in part 3 of the series on Syrian Refugee Crisis.
So you leave your home in Syria, and let’s say you run to the North, to Turkey. From there, you want to seek asylum in Europe, but to do that, you need to cross the Mediterranean Sea. And “cross the Mediterranean Sea” sounds a lot easier than it really is. Especially if you are doing it illegally, probably on a raft, carrying all your earthly possessions in your backpack. There were tens of thousands of testimonies in which people claimed they got scammed, and the last of their money basically stolen from them by people who guaranteed them safe passage to Greece, only to make fools of them and take what little money they succeeded in carrying with themselves when they fled their homes. As the website politico.eu says, the average rate was around 1200 USD for grownups, and 600 USD for children, so the human smugglers raked in as much as 72,000 USD per single boat. And don’t worry, taxi and bus drivers, hotel owners and merchants are all well into this and connected to the entire story. The sad thing being, none of them realizes how they extort and use these people. One of the smugglers said, and this is an exact quote: “I don’t think of myself as a criminal. I’m not doing anything to hurt anybody. I’m helping out my own people and earning some money doing it.” For further reading and testimonies of this kind, you can visit this link.
So you’ve paid the bus/taxi driver, you’ve paid the smuggler, now it’s time to board the boat and go to safety. But what if the boat sinks, which is often the case, since people are crammed onto them to make more profit in a single go, making them basically a floating hazard for anyone’s life. In order to prevent this, you go and buy yourself and your family a life vest. Luckily, the local Turkish and some Syrian “businessmen” have, out of sheer mercy of their hearts, set up shops with tens of thousands of life-vests. It seems like the life vest industry was having a real boom in the Summer of 2014. and 2015. But even making money by selling life-vests at 10x the price to refugees isn’t as bad as selling fake life-vests filled with styrofoam. Nope, I’m not kidding, there were people making and selling refugees fake life-vests, which if they were to finish in the sea, would fill up with water and take them down to the bottom of the sea. The statistics at BBC.com say that more than 3,770 migrants drowned only in 2015 trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. I hope those people who sold styrofoam-filled life vests sleep calmly. I honestly hope so.
Oh happy day - you manage to not die at the sea, and you reach what you think is the safety of Greek shores. But then the Greek police starts beating you up and treating you like a war criminal/serial rapist/animal at the zoo (if you’ve read the previous articles you’ll remember this testimony here), and after some time you come to the border crossing between Greece and FYR Macedonia. Now the important thing to realize is that almost all of the countries on the “Balkan Route”, and those are Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary, have shelters for refugees, mostly funded and organized by UNHCR, and run with the help of various international organizations and NGO’s. At these shelters, refugees can stay up to three days by country regulations, before they continue their journey towards the Western parts of the continent. But those waiting at the border crossings met a different faith. They were fairly well organized, but lacked the capacity to attain all the people who needed it, so tens of thousands slept on the streets and in the parks of major cities. Some of the most representative examples were the park near the main bus station in Belgrade, Serbia in which hundreds of refugees, many of whom are children slept in tents, in the freezing rain and the train station in Zagreb, Croatia, where they waited for transportation.
Talks of people cheating refugees out of their money didn’t stop after crossing the Mediterranean Sea. In Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia, there were many individuals who offered transportation from border to border at prices 20 and more times above what is considered fair. I’ve witnessed Belgrade’s taxi drivers ask for 5x more money for fares from the Syrian refugees, and it was the same in other countries. The Hungarian Police treated them like they are a lower life form, and not a bunch of scared people in need. And if you think I’m being too harsh, check out the video on this link. And just when you thought that things can’t get any worse, Croatia and Hungary start acting like two little children on the football field, and complaining that “there are too many refugees at their borders”.
Not Greece with over 480,000 arrivals, not Macedonia, not Serbia with over 313,000 registered arrivals, but Croatia and Hungary. “The pillars of the South-East EU zone.” And let’s once more remember how the EU considers human rights one of its primary concerns by viewing the mentioned video of the Hungarian police throwing food to refugees over the fence. While we’re on the subject of fences, we have to make a honorable mention to Viktor Orban, Hungarian Prime Minister, who, as we said in the first article, ordered a barbed wire wall to be built along Hungary’s southern border with Serbia, in order to prevent the migrants crossing the border. If it reminds anyone of the WW II Hungary, it’s okay - because it’s very similar to the WW II Hungary. The Croats had a human rights superstar of their own - the then Prime Minister, Zoran Milanovic accused Serbia of “sending too many refugees their way” and suggested the authorities to “spray them around a bit more”, also saying that “Croatia welcomes refugees, as long as they don’t stay in Croatia”. That is basically saying “I like kittens, as long as they stay away from me” which, in all honesty, means you hate kittens. Then Croatia entered into a trade embargo with Serbia over the fact that the refugees were pouring in. And this is not happening in a Scrooge McDuck cartoon, it was really happening, in the 21st century in the middle of Europe.
And while the European leaders were playing politics, and imposing rules, people were trapped in the transit route, hungry, cold, dirty and exhausted, cheated out of their money, with their dignity beaten out of them. But it was all okay, in some strange tragic way, as long as there was hope. Hope that after weeks or months of running, swimming, sailing, floating, crawling and dragging your exhausted, frightened and hungry body, you would reach safety and stop sleeping in mud and rain. But the closing of the “Balkan Route” changed all of that. How? Check out in the next part of this series.