Dimitrovgrad / Serbia – Beginning of January 2016 Report (01-10.1.2016)

by InfoPark

The beginning of 2016 was very slow in Dimitrovgrad. The refugee influx was almost non existing in the first days of the new year. The town was snowed in and temperatures were very low (up to -12C overnight). The extended NYE holidays on both sides of the border and especially a start of the hunting season in Bulgaria (which scared refugees who are using forest tracks) lead to decreasing number of refugees averaging about 20-30 daily.

This was not sufficient to keep the refugee-only bus service to Belgrade so police finally allowed them to freely use two regular daily direct trains to Belgrade. A permit to use a 12.40 train (cost: 9 euro) was especially a welcome addition to the traveling scheme due to a Belgrade connection with a 21.30 train to Croatian border (Sid) with several wagons reserved for migrants. This means that in reality, refugees could reach a Croatian border from Dimitrovgrad (a Bulgarian border) in mere 12 hours and for about 13 euros.

After the first January week the numbers started rising again towards more than 180 new arrivals  registered on January 10. There is a growing number of big Kurdish Yazidi families and groups with a plenty of children (approx. half of them) plus usual Afgani younger male groups, sometimes with unaccompanied minors that are one of the major concerns. Lots of refugees continued to arrive overnight in a rather bad condition, tired from a long walk in cold weather, frustrated by a very bad Bulgarian police treatment or simply wet from crossing the nearby river. They all found a support in the registration camp.

The rising numbers also lead to re-establishing a bus service (cost: 30 euro) operating between the registration camp and Belgrade. Despite a usual pressure from bus drivers, the refugees now have more options to travel. When funds are missing, train is always a good solution.

The refugee support within the camp also continued to improve, with 24/7 now being an operational norm for all the organizations present inside (InfoPark, Waha, Divac, Red Cross). The refugees were covered with medical aid, information provision, food packages, blankets and clothes as well as the full translation service in Farsi and Arabic.

Also a significant number of organizations without a permit to enter the camp was present outside, providing aid in clothes and food (Praxis, IHO, DRC). The whole system performed pretty well so no refugee left Dimitrovgrad without an aid and protection of some kind.