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Border Closings Are Leaving Desperate Migrants Trapped in the Balkans

4 minute read

In a small Serbian town, three young Iraqis wait at a bus stop next to a small park.

“We are going to Croatia,” says Alaa Kamal, who hails from Baghdad. Over the summer, this park in the center of Kanijza, which is just a few kilometers from the Hungarian border, served as a gathering point for refugees attempting to cross the frontier. Groups would meet here and set off on foot toward Hungary. Now the park is mostly empty.

Kamal and his friends tried to cross into Hungary on Monday night around 11 pm, using the railway tracks near the Hungarian town of Rozske, but found the way already blocked.

“We heard it will close on Tuesday,” says Kamal. Their hopes were dashed. “The women were crying.”

Hungary has sealed its frontier with Serbia, using a 110-mile long fence lined with layers of razor wire and units of army and police. Now hundreds of migrants—mostly Syrians, Iraqis, Afghanis and Pakistanis—wait at the Horgos border crossing in Serbia, hoping to be let in. Today, clashes erupted there between the refugees, who threw rocks and burning tires, and police who lobbed tear gas and sprayed water cannons on the crowd.

At one point a rumor spread that Hungary had opened the gates. Parents grabbed their children and belongings and ran to the front, only to be met with more tear gas. “What is happening? Is it open or what?” asks one man as he ran away from the tear gas carrying a toddler.

By evening refugees begin leaving the Horgos border crossing. Buses arrived to take people to a camp in Kanijza. From there, they are told, they will be able to take the bus on to Croatia. Dozens boarded free buses provided by Serbian authorities, others got in taxis. Some stayed behind.

“My group left about an hour ago,” says Nour a woman from Damascus. “I have a baby…And I don’t know anything about this road.”

Thousands of Syrians have taken the journey through Hungary, reporting back to family and friends about the best routes and the potential dangers. But this route through Croatia is new and uncharted. Nour says her group will go ahead and if it’s safe, she will follow with her child.

This land has known war before. Already, people are posting on social media warning of the dangers of minefields on the Serbian-Croatian border.

“No, no, now Hungary is closed,” Michel Nawfal, from Syria, tells his friend standing a few hundred yards from the border. They discuss their plans. The only option left is Croatia, and the two say the Serbia police told them they would able to reach the border. “They gave us a map,” he says.

“This reminds me now of Syria,” his friend says, laying on the ground near where the clashes took place earlier.

“He thought the road to Europe would be made of flowers,” says Nawfal. “Now he discovers the road.”

Nawfal says they are less worried about landmines and more concerned that Slovenia may close its border. While Croatia has said it will allow free passage of refugees through its territory, Slovenia is promising an approach more similar to that of Hungary, tightening its frontier.

“The border with Croatia is… a Schengen external border,” Slovenian Police Commissioner Marjan Fank, told AFP, “and for that reason, under strong police control.”

If that happens, and Hungary reinforces its border with Croatia, the refugees will again be trapped.

“They don’t know what they doing,” says Robert Valdec, a Croatian journalist, of his government, after watching the scene at the border today. “It’s just a competition in political correctness.”

Croatia is a member of the European Union, but it has one of the weakest economies in the EU, and it may be trying to garner favor with Germany.

And while the country may be prepared for the few thousands currently stuck in Serbia, it has no way of being ready for the thousands and thousands more who will come every day if refugees spread the word about a safe route through Croatia.

These Photos Show the Massive Scale of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Greece Migrants
Syrian and Afghan refugees warm themselves and dry their clothes around a fire after arriving on a dinghy from the Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, early on Oct. 7, 2015. Muhammed Muheisen—AP
migrant refugee greece
A migrant who recently arrived across the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey, watching a ferry in the port of Mytilene, Lesbos island, Greece, on Oct. 5, 2015.Zoltan Balogh—EPA
refugees migrants Lesbos Greek islands
An Afghan wades to the shore after arriving in an overloaded rubber dinghy on the coast near Skala Sikaminias, Lesbos island, Greece, Oct. 1, 2015. Filip Singer—EPA
Syrian refugees Lesbos Greece
Syrian refugees are covered with life blankets upon arriving to the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey, on Sept. 28, 2015. Aris Messinis—AFP/Getty Images
migrants refugees Lesbos
Migrants and refugees arrive on Sykamia beach, west of the port of Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey, on Sept. 22, 2015. Iakovos Hatzistavrou—AFP/Getty Images
Croatia Migrants
Migrants and refugees board a train by climbing through the windows as they try to avoid a police barrier at the station in Tovarnik, Croatia, on Sept. 20, 2015. Manu Brabo—AP
Croatia Migrants
A Syrian refugee boy cries while he and his family try to board a train at the station in Tovarnik, Croatia, on Sept. 20, 2015.Manu Brabo—AP
migrants hungary serbia border clash
A migrant holds his child during a clash with Hungarian riot police at the Horgos border crossing in Serbia, on Sept. 16, 2015.Sergey Ponomarev—The New York Times/Redux
migrants serbia
Migrants sleep on a highway in front of a barrier at the border with Hungary near the village of Horgos, Serbia, on Sept. 16, 2015. Marko Djurica—Reuters
Hungary Serbia border
A wagon equipped with razor wire is placed at the border between Hungary and Serbia in Roszke, some 10 miles southeast from Budapest, Hungary, Sept. 14, 2015, to close the gap of the temporary border fence at the Horgos-Szeged railway line. Balazs Mohai—EPA
refugees migrants Lesbos
A refugee reacts from exhaustion while swimming towards the shore after a dinghy carrying Syrian and Afghan refugees before reaching the Greek island of Lesbos, on Sept. 13, 2015. Alkis Konstantinidis—Reuters
refugees migrants Hungary
Syrian people sleep inside a greenhouse at a makeshift camp for asylum seekers near Roszke, southern Hungary, on Sept. 13, 2015. Muhammed Muheisen—AP
Hungary Migrants refugees children
Syrian refugee Raed Alabdou, 24, holds his one-month old daughter Roa'a, while he and his wife hide in a field not to be seen by Hungarian policemen, after they crossed the Serbian-Hungarian border near Roszke, southern Hungary, on Sept. 11, 2015. Muhammed Muheisen—AP
refugees migrants macedonia
Migrants and refugees beg Macedonian police to allow passage to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia during a rainstorm, near the Greek village of Idomeni, on Sept. 10, 2015. Yannis Behrakis—Reuters
refugees migrants Morahalom Hungary
Migrants run over a motorway from a collection point that had been set up to transport people to camps in Morahalom, Hungary, on Sept. 9, 2015.Dan Kitwood—Getty Images
syrian refugee migrant hungary
A young Syrian man from Damascus tries to evade the Hungarian police by sneaking through a forest close to the Serbian border in Morahalom, Hungary, on Sept. 8, 2015. Dan Kitwood—Getty Images
refugees migrants Serbia
Migrants cross into Hungary as they walk over railroad tracks at the Serbian border with Hungary in Horgas, Serbia, on Sept. 7, 2015.Dan Kitwood— Getty Images
refugee migrant Lesbos
A refugee from Syria prays after arriving on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos aboard an inflatable dinghy across the Aegean Sea from Turkey, on Sept. 7, 2015. Angelos Tzortzinis—AFP/Getty Images
syrian refugees migrants greek coast guard
A migrant scrambles to climb back aboard a rubber dinghy full of his fellow Syrians as they try to cross from Turkey to the Greek islands on their way to claim asylum in the European Union, late on Sept. 6, 2015.Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
syrian refugees migrants greek coast guard
A Syrian migrant aboard a flimsy rubber motorboat hands his one-month-old baby to Greek coast guards, who have arrived to rescue the boat full of migrants from dangerous waters near the border between Greece and Turkey, early on Sept. 7, 2015.Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
Greece Migrants
A young Syrian boy is wrapped with a thermal blanket as he arrives with others at the coast on a dinghy after crossing from Turkey, at the island of Lesbos, Greece, on Sept. 7, 2015.Petros Giannakouris—AP
Greece Migrants
Refugees and migrants wait to cross the border from the northern Greek village of Idomeni to southern Macedonia, on Sept. 7, 2015. Giannis Papanikos—AP
Migrants walk along rail tracks as they arrive to a collection point in the village of Roszke, Hungary
Migrants walk along rail tracks as they arrive to a collection point in the village of Roszke, Hungary, on Sept. 6, 2015.Marko Djurica—Reuters
migrant refugees train macedonia
Migrant families ride a train from Gevgelija to the Serbian border in Macedonia, on Sept. 4, 2015.Dan Kitwood—Getty Images
Italy Migrants refugees
Migrants crowd the bridge of the Norwegian Siem Pilot ship sailing along the Mediterranean sea, on Sept. 2, 2015. Gregorio Borgia—AP
Aylan Kurdi boy drowned
A Turkish gendarme carries the body of Alan Kurdi, 3, who drowned along with his brother Galip, 5, and their mother, in a failed attempt to sail to the Greek island of Kos, in the coastal town of Bodrum, Turkey, on Sept. 2, 2015.Reuters
Migrant crisis
Dozens of refugee families, mostly from Syria, camped near the Keleti train station in Budapest, Hungary on Sept. 2, 2015.Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
Migrant crisis
A Syrian migrant bids farewell to the Hungarian volunteers who welcomed him upon his arrival in the European Union in Szeged, Hungary on Aug. 30, 2015.Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
refugees migrants Hungarian-Serbian border
A father of a migrants family is arrested by the local police near the village of Roszke on the Hungarian-Serbian border on Aug. 28, 2015.Attila Kisbender—AFP/Getty Images
Syrian migrants cross under a fence as they enter Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke
Syrian migrants cross under a fence as they enter Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke, on Aug. 27, 2015. Bernadett Szabo—Reuters
Hungary border fence migrants refugees
Hungarian soldiers install a wire fence at the border between Hungary and Serbia near Hercegszanto, 115 miles southeast from Budapest, on Aug. 25, 2015. Tamas Soki—EPA
syrian migrant refugee girl greece
A little girl from Syria looks out of a bus as the ferry she arrived in is reflected in the bus window at the port of Piraeus, Greece, on Aug. 25, 2015. Petros Giannakouris—AP
Macedonian police clash with refugees at blocked border
Children cry as migrants waiting on the Greek side of the border break through a cordon of Macedonian special police forces to cross into Macedonia, near the southern city of Gevgelija, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on Aug. 21, 2015.Georgi Licovski—EPA
Calais migrants
Gendarmerie attempt to prevent people from entering the Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles, Calais, France on July 30, 2015.Rob Stothard—Getty Images
Kos Migrants Greece
Life vests and a deflated dinghy are seen on a beach on the Greek island of Kos, following the arrival of Afghan immigrants, on May 30, 2015.Yannis Behrakis—Reuters

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