In autumn 2015, a huge wave of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and several African countries swept over the western Balkans. For the German Press Agency’s radio department, I went to eastern Croatia, in order to cover the story, while thousands of asylum seekers crossed into Croatia from Serbia, every single day.
After an 8-hour trip from Sofia, via Nis and Belgrade, I arrived in Tovarnik, a larger village in this beautiful part of Croatia. One gas station, two little supermarkets and one pizzeria were everything this place offered. The usual quietude was off for a while, since thousands of people from other parts of the world were forced to use Tovarnik to stop over on their way to Western Europe. One year ago, it was indeed possible to get to Austria, Germany or other countries up there.
Once the refugees got to Tovarnik, they already had long journeys behind them. Many had walked 50km and more. Serbia just picked up refugees at its border to Macedonia 24 hours a day. The buses would later stop close to an unofficial crossing at the north-western border to Croatia. From there, they walked across fields, until they got to Tovarnik.
During my first two days on site, thinks looked more than dull. What the Croatians called a refugee camp, was actually a pasture. Rain showers turned it into a muddy place, which was far from deserving the expression refugee camp. There were hardly any tents, children, many with bronchitis, were sleeping on the cold ground. Apart from five chemical toilets, there was no sanitation whatsoever. Part of the pasture was covered with excrement.
The Croatian government had not yet managed to organize food and beverages either. Had it not been for some volunteers from the UK, France and Germany, the growing numbers of refugees would not have had anything at all. Thanks to the mostly young people, who had come down here with vans full of bread, bananas and other items, there was at least something to eat.
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(Photo: (c) Imanuel Marcus)