In this four-part series about the Syrian refugees, we’ll try to take a walk through the entire situation up to this moment, but not strictly form a perspective of the international conflict and crisis, but also the one trying to describe what it is like being a refugee, and what do they have to go through, since they leave Syria, travel across the Mediterranean Sea, and through “The Balkan Route”, which was closed just a few days ago.
It is impossible to grasp the severity and the hardship of being a refugee if you were never in that situation. Leaving everything behind, in many cases leaving everyone behind, which means even the people who you love, and just running for your bare life can leave deep and profound scars on a persons’ mentality. This is one of the reasons why it is crucial for the humane and understanding treatment from the communities and locals which refugees flee to. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case, and the unfortunate people who have their lives torn apart by war, often have to go through living hell for the second time.
The most recent global problem of this kind is the refugee crisis initiated by ISIS’s aggressive war campaign, where millions of people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were forced to run. By current information there are more than 4.7 million refugees, and 6.6 million internally displaced, which makes it the worst refugee crisis of our time.
It all started ad 2011. as a part of the “Arab Spring”, but things soon took a turn for the worst when protests turned into a full-blown civil war . Now, five years after it has begun, there are more than 220.000 reported victims, half of whom are civilians. Running from the horrors of the Islamic State regime which emerged from the conflict, many of the refugees decided to look for safety in the Western Europe. Most of them found refuge by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, and coming ashore in Greece. Their route further led them through FYR of Macedonia, then Serbia, from which they entered the Schengen zone either in Hungary or Croatia, and continued their transit into the West Europe, mostly through Austria.
The number of refugees grew exponentially. It started in 2012. with 100.000 refugees, this number grew eight times by march 2013. then it doubled from this to 1.6 million by the end of that year, and now there are more than 4.7 million refugees scattered around the world. The biggest expansion and movement towards the Western Europe started in late 2014. with literally tens of thousands of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea every week. They searched for safety in Greece, and then further in Europe through FYR Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Hungary, and Austria.
The Greek infrastructure and their readiness to accept such a large volume of refugees was, of course, far below what was needed. In all fairness, it is hard to presume that any country would be prepared to have tens of thousands of people all of a sudden pour through its borders on a daily basis. Besides that, the cultural and ethnic differences spawned conflicts with the local people, and even local authorities. All of that made the entire situation pretty incendiary, and incidents occurred frequently, with Syrians being in a very unfavorable position.
There was a series of articles on the famous photo-blog “The People of New-York” which wrote about the destinies of some of the migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea, and coming offshore to Greece. One of the witnesses described in detail how they were literally tortured by Greek police officers in mid-2014. put in holding cells like animals, beaten and humiliated, left without food or even water, for days on, before they were let off to continue their voyage barefooted. This kind of mistreating wasn’t uncommon on the Greek-Macedonian border, with the situation being somewhat better in Serbia which cooperated the best with the international community, the UNHCR and all the NGO’s and other entities that worked on providing somewhat decent treatment of the refugees. The mistreatment started happening again at the Hungarian and Croatian borders in late 2015.
Their public officials spoke out openly against migrants, sometimes in a fashion that looked, at best, like the 1930’s Germany. Up to December 2015. more than 313.000 migrants were registered entering the Serbian border from FYR Macedonia, and continuing their route. Media, as well as the public opinion, were strongly divided concerning this whole crisis and the help that was and should be extended to migrants.
Because of, probably, some false sense of political correctness, people don’t talk publicly about the mistreatment and generally negative attitude of local population towards the refugees. Well, at least the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban spoke out his mind about refugees. As shameful and discriminatory as those statements were, at least someone showed the international community where a large part of the people really stand on the issue of Syrian refugees, and that helped others grasp the severity of discrimination and bigotry these people are under, and the humiliation they are subjected to, only because they refused to stay in a war stricken zone, and fled with their heads on their shoulders in search of better life. His Croatian counterpart at that time, Zoran Milanovic, had a milder view on the situation and did not order barbed-wire walls to be set up, but was reluctant to Croatia accommodating migrants, and closed the borders even initiating trade embargo with Serbia to prove his point.
But how did it look on the ground? How local communities really reacted? What did the local media and propaganda write about refugees, and what is going to happen now that the "Balkan Route" is closed? Find out in two days in the second part of this article.