Majdan (Serbie) (AFP)
Inside an abandoned house, onions sizzle as Seror, a mother of four, struggles to cook an Iraqi specialty over an open fire, trying to maintain an illusion of home for her loved ones.
The Alhayani family are among hundreds of people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia who are sheltering in abandoned houses in Serbian villages close to the Hungarian and Romanian borders.
Most are trying to get to Western Europe via Romania, a new hot spot on the Balkan migrant route where the number of arrivals has grown rapidly over the past two years.
Romania was not greatly affected by the migrant crisis of 2015, when tens of thousands of people moved directly from Serbia to Hungary and beyond.
But the border is seen as easier to negotiate than entry points to Croatia, which has a reputation for police rigor, and Hungary, which built a wire fence as a deterrent in 2015. .
While waiting for their chance to move on, the Alhayanis occupy a house abandoned decades ago by the original inhabitants, who have left in search of a better life.
# photo1 They sleep on the floor where the humidity has consumed the parquet, in constant fear that the old roof will collapse.
“Of course it’s not a dream house, but what can we do? Asks their 16-year-old daughter, the only member of her family to have learned English on their trip.
“We have to stay here so that we can realize our dreams in the future. “
– ‘They broke my leg’ –
The Alhayani family fled Iraq three years ago and, after spending two years in a camp in Greece, tried unsuccessfully to enter Croatia via Bosnia.
They finally arrived in Majdan in northern Serbia a month ago, trying every day to cross Romania without success.
The path to Romania may be easier, but it is a “path of the poor,” said a group of Syrians crammed into a small room, preparing to try to cross the border once more.
For those who are strapped for cash, crossing into Romania is practically the only option.
But that makes their journey longer and more difficult, and only delays the inevitable journey through Hungary, which is the first Schengen country without a passport in Europe.
# photo2 ″ If I had 5,000 or 6,000 euros ($ 6,100 or $ 7,300), I would pay (a smuggler) to go straight from Serbia to Hungary, “a 30-year-old Syrian told AFP. who chose not to give his name.
Romanian police said there were more than 45,000 attempts to “cross the border illegally” last year, four times more than in 2019.
They say nearly 80 percent of migrants have been refused entry.
The Romanian police once had a better reputation than their Hungarian and Croatian colleagues, but today they are also accused of violence and violations of international law.
“The Romanian police broke my leg twice and my hand once,” a Syrian migrant told AFP, who said he worked as a lawyer in his home country.
“Some people are good, some are bad. “
Ljubimka Mitrovic, of the UN refugee agency, told AFP that more than 25,000 migrants said they were pushed back across the Romanian border in 2020, more than double the number last year.
Stressing that refoulements – forced evictions without the possibility of seeking asylum – are illegal, she said that 12% of those refouled by Romania had suffered violence.
Contacted several times by AFP for a response to the allegations, the Romanian police did not respond.
They have previously denied violent pushbacks, as have Croatian and Hungarian forces.
– “You can’t stop people” –
Trapped in Serbia, the migrants were not warmly welcomed in a predominantly Hungarian border area.
Many locals are older farmers who get their information from the Hungarian national media, known for their anti-immigration tone.
“Life will be good again when these migrants leave, they are like rats,” said an older man with a military tattoo on his shoulder.
Locals sitting outside the only local store boo and swear when migrants enter.
Police are on patrol around the clock to prevent potential violence between the two groups.
“We offered to build a camp there, but the local community refused,” Vladimir Cucic, head of the Serbian refugee agency, told AFP.
“They didn’t want to become a hub for refugees. “
Although the so-called Balkan route is nowhere near as crowded as it was during the migrant crisis in Europe five years ago, tens of thousands of people still pass through the region every year.
Cucic expects another push very soon.
“It’s like trying to hold water. You can’t stop people, ”he said.
© 2021 AFP