It is easier to smile without a mask

It is easier to smile without a mask

The “Oltalom” Charity Society was among the first to bring donations yesterday to the Croatian town of Tovarnik, a new station of the refugee crisis.

In the morning, we set out for the Serbian-Hungarian border with Gábor Iványi (Methodist minister and founder of the charity – trans.) and his wife in a van full of tents and blankets. A telling way to characterize the continually changing situation is that we decided to change direction while on the road. Volunteers working in Horgoš (town on the Serbian side of the Hungarian-Serbian border – trans.) suggested that we turn in the same direction as the refugees leaving from there: toward Tovarnik.

About 6000 refugees collected at the small Croatian town by last night. About 1000 of them came from Horgoš, while the majority arrived by buses or taxis from the Macedonian border to Tovarnik’s Serbian border. From here, the refugees are taken by buses and trains to camps in Zagreb and elsewhere for adjudication of their cases. Unlike Hungary and other countries of the European Union, Croatia does not consider Serbia a safe third country, so the chances of them attaining asylum status are considerably higher there. (Since the writing of this article, the situation has been changing continually, since the Croatians have also reached their intake capacity – ed.).

Feeling the prospect of advancing toward their goals creates a positive mood among people otherwise considerably exhausted and uncared for. They were scattered over a large area in the vicinity surrounding the railway station. It was apparent that they were not expecting to wait for long. Travel was stalled every once in a while, but sooner or later everybody got picked up. There were, however, refugees setting out in the direction of Zagreb on foot, perhaps because of previous experiences in Hungary: they may fear that the possibility to continue may be cut off suddenly.

Nevertheless despite seeing the arrival of thousands of migrants from one day to another, and despite the temporary problems with transportation or care, the Croatian authorities – thus far – have been very humane and patient in their handling of the situation. Unlike their Hungarian counterparts, the Croatian police do not wear masks and gloves, and one does not detect real tension between them and the refugees.

The presence of the Croatian Red Cross also makes an enormous difference. They keep under close watch the distribution of donations – this may happen only through them and by the supervision of the police, so as to avoid any further conflict. Austrian volunteers who were in Horgoš in the previous days moved to Tovarnik Wednesday evening. Since then, many local as well as foreign volunteers have joined them, many of whom praised the work of the local Red Cross and actively work with them. By nightfall even Beli Manastir (Pélmonostor in Hungarian – trans.), located close to the Hungarian border, filled up with refugees. Hungarian volunteers were on site to distribute food here.

While during the day we crossed the Croatian-Serbian border several times – for example, because shops on the Croatian side were emptied of goods – we were not able to get back to Serbia at night. The border was closed, in the same way the border crossings between Croatia and Hungary will be closed soon. This will further complicate the aid work of Hungarian volunteers, who are trying to transport the donations available in Hungary to the other side of the border, where they are most needed at this time.

Photo: MTI – Zoltán BALOGH

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