Outside the new camp near Croatia’s border with Hungary on Monday, there appeared to be nearly as many journalists as refugees.
And the refugees had more questions than the journalists. “Does anyone know where we will go after the camp? How we will get there?” some asked.
“We are leaving after a day or two,” answered Omar, an Iraqi refugee, when the reporters didn’t know.
“How do you know?” asked Monar from Syria. “Where are you getting your information?” Omar didn’t answer. The local authorities spoke no Arabic or Afghan languages and could barely communicate with refugees. The only common language was English, and no one spoke much of that, either.
When Anas, a Syrian-Hungarian journalist joined the group, they asked the most pressing question of all: “Will we be fingerprinted when we get inside?”
Precisely where fingerprints are taken is essential knowledge for the hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere streaming into Europe along this route. Once a person is fingerprinted and registered as a refugee in one place, they are obligated to stay.
“They will take your picture but no fingerprints,” Anas said. “They will provide food, a place to rest and then bring you to the border.”
Anas’s information wasn’t 100 percent reliable, but, coming from Hungarian news sources and Syrian refugees, it was likely the best bet. He had no news about what would happen to the refugees once they reach the border.
“From there,” he said, “You go with God.”
Many refugees suspect the lack of information is partly because governments haven’t decided what to do.
A mass of people passing through a country without legal entry represents a security threat. But leaving people stuck on borders creates a humanitarian crisis and in some cases strains already tense cross-border relations.
For refugees, the only way is forward; there’s no chance the throngs of people fleeing wars, crushing poverty, rule by extremists and other human rights disasters will simply walk back to whence they came. Europe’s choice is either to make accommodations or fight to keep them out.
“A woman was stoned to death last week,” said Hani, a first grade teacher from an Islamic State [IS] controlled part of Syria while he queued to enter the camp. “Too many people are dying every day.”
Hungary says it is closing its borders once it finishes building its fence, and plans to arrest anyone caught entering illegally. It also says it won’t allow refugees to pass through without fingerprinting and registration much longer.
But the throng is seemingly unstoppable, and Hungary has been shuttling people across the country in recent days, leaving refugees on the other side hopeful despite hardline edicts.
“The illegal crossing of the country’s borders is a crime punishable by imprisonment,” read a notice released by the Hungarian government and printed in Arab newspapers today. “Do not listen to the people smugglers.”
Despite the warnings, refugees say they have no choice but to find a place in Europe.
“We have to go,” said Hani, the teacher. “Everybody says they want to help Syria. But it’s only talk.”
(Main photo: Croatian police guard a camp near the border they say will house refugees for a day or two before they are transferred to the border with Hungary, Opatovac, Croatia, September 21 2015. VOA / H. Murdock)