serbian/macedonian border

Report from Preševo
10.-12. November 2015

This is a report about the last days in Preševo. This report is a report about inhuman conditions, failing NGO’s and police violence.
According to the information from the Danish Refugee Council (the only NGO that seems to be working somehow), both the 10th and the 11th of November, 10.000-11.000 refugees and migrants reached Preševo. We did not get the chance to estimate ourselves the number, as the queuing situation itself demanded our total attention, but the numbers correspond to those the activists in Ilomeni collected.

The camp is in the middle of a residential area and the camp is excessively small so that the queue is on the main street of town. The number of provided toilets is ridiculous: 8 in total for all waiting refugees, half of them almost impossible to access, as they are located between two barricaded areas. Yesterday two of the four accessible ones were closed. Police generally often refuses demands for going to the toilet. The waiting time is long: up to 13 hours, for some even two days, situation abused by the taxi drivers that convince/force people more easily to get in their car. The situation in the waiting line is unbearable. Due to all this, refugees and migrants sleeping on the street faced even more humiliating conditions than “usual”. That means sleeping on the street happens every night to a large number of persons, even in “calmer” days especially women, kids and families, cannot queue as the situation is too dangerous in the queue. To make sure they don’t get hurt, parents often leave their kids waiting alone on the street. Few of the refugees and migrants have tents, some don’t even have blankets. The nights are very cold and none of the present NGOs distributes blankets. The volunteers do not have enough, and they do not have enough warm clothes neither as Serbia makes it almost impossible to enter the country with donations. As there are no other sleeping option than the street, trash and excrements surround the sleeping bodies. Today a police officer demanded refugees to clean up saying that they could skip the cage they were in in return.
UNHCR demanded us for money in order to pay persons who do not have any for the transport to Croatia. Besides that, they almost never leave the camp. In theory, they can be called, but in none of the catastrophic situations, they showed up. Medicins Sans Frontières closed during the night for some hours. The access to their tent was anyway blocked also before because of the crowd and police who did not let pass anybody. The doctors never came to the crowd even if people fainted.
The local police does not have control over the situation at all, the situation is therefore very tense but besides some individuals who are aggressive, they are somewhat approachable. Those who are not local are much more aggressive. Communication is a big problem: almost nobody speaks Arabic, Farsi or English. In exceptional cases they use a translator, who yesterday shouted racist comments in Arabic and in English over the megaphone directed to a group of migrants. The 10th of November, 20 policemen were present in total. Their shift lasts for over 24 hours. The same day, the Žandarmerija (Serbian special unit to prevent terrorism) arrived for 6 hours to support them doing crowd control. The result: none. Since yesterday night (11th) the police presence increased, with no other result than having more aggressive police and Žandarmerija. They try to control the people by verbal violence, by beating people with truncheon and tent poles and by the use of taser.

The situation is a catastrophe: fences build big cage-like areas in which the “crowd” that “needs to be controlled” stands squeezed for hours, pregnant women and kids within them, without being able to move or to go to the toilet, with no water or food. People who faint in the cages are somehow transported next to the fences by the crowd and hauled out by supporters. Again: no doctors present, it’s supporters providing first aid. The people in the first line are pressed against the fences. To have less pressure lots of them throw their bags over the fence. When the police then opens the fences, people who have been waiting for hours sprint forward. Lots of them fall over the luggage and are run over by the people from the back, pressing to get forward. Families are separated in a brutal way, which increases the panic as nobody tells them they can reunite after the registration. Sometimes the fences give in and the people burst out. Police then hits whoever is in front with truncheons.
We observed how the Police tried to control the situation by forcing people (beating and threatening with tasers) to sit down. They could than only “go” out of the cage one by one, moving forward on their knees. Everybody who tried to stand up was beaten, even persons with children on their back.

It is obvious that the police is overstrained and does not have the situation under control: the leading Žandarmerija officer demanded us for solutions for the “crowd control”. It is obvious that the registration camp of Preševo is not a safe place, where humans are treated as humans. It is obvious that Serbia does not respect the human rights of refugees and migrants and that official NGOs do not do anything to avoid that.

Whoever is on the way to Preševo needs to be prepared on sleeping on the street and to stand for long hours. Make sure to have enough to eat and to drink.