An escape from the poverty and war at home failed to stop the hide and seek game for thousands of asylum seekers. This time they are running from the police force of Serbia and neighboring EU states, and being the losing side has left them stranded for months in the Balkan peninsula.
Serbia is one of the worst economically lagging regions in Europe. The human rights index also indicates a lower position of this non-EU state. However, Serbia’s proximity to the EU states of Hungary and Croatia made the country a possible gateway to western Europe for asylum seekers around the globe. There are currently over 6,000 asylum seekers stuck throughout Serbia, according to the UNHCR.
A Bangladeshi asylum seeker stuck in Subotica, a Serbian city neighboring Hungary says he had to cross Turkey, Greece, and Macedonia to reach Serbia. Now he aims for France through a passage across Hungary or Croatia. A group of smugglers is active in this Balkan route to get the migrants to their destination. The rate varies according to the route the migrants prefer to take, usually two to six thousand euros. The journey to the border is the most challenging part, asylum seekers call it “the game”. After nights of discussions on how to not get caught red-handed by the Croatian or Hungarian police force, the uncertain passage starts through the forests. Not everyone can bear to walk for crazy hours in the cold with limited food and water. A few get to reach the border leaving their fellow migrants dead in the dark. But the asylum seekers are playing a game where they are to be lost every time. The tight security at the Croatian and Hungarian border forces them to return to Serbia, often the pushback comes with a price of brutal beatings.
The chaotic situation at the border is fueling anti-migrant protests and an upsurge of right-wing groups in Serbia. Over the last months of 2020 vigilantes organized protests under so-called “peoples’ patrols” to defend the Serbian citizens from “criminals” and “terrorists”. Threats from locals and a halt of aid from organizations due to the pandemic made the lives of asylum seekers extremely miserable. Katarina Jovanovic, a researcher who interviewed the unaccompanied asylum seekers in the Serbian capital Belgrade says, neither the UNHCR nor the International Red Cross or UNICEF currently bothers on the situation in Serbia. Experts say the EU has to figure out an effective way to deal with the migrant wave. Wearing a blindfold to the crisis will only punish a group of people who are guilty of dreaming for a good life.