Report #7 – The wave of refugees
coming into Europe. By Peter Lippman
2015 Report index
Introduction/overview, Sarajevo, activism. Report 2:
Prospects for activism. Report 3:
Prijedor. Report 4:
Dodik's referendum, Dodik's corruption. Report 5:
Srebrenica. Report 6:
Tuzla, Mostar, and activism. Report 7:
The wave of
refugees coming into Europe.
To contact Peter
in response to these reports or any of his articles,
This wraps up my
series of reports. Your feedback is welcome.
As before, I thank brother Roger Lippman for proofreading and for
his feedback on the texts. The typos and mistakes are mine.
Thanks much for reading.
December 5, 1992
Refugee, exile, migrant…nobody and nothing in this world
I stand on platform number 7 at the main railway station in
Salzburg. I look at the clock on the platform, time stopped a long
time ago, I see only the temperature: -7 Celsius.
Cold air breaks through the summer jacket I'm wearing, with which I
try to cover the splitting pants on my butt.
Moisture seeps through my torn-up tennis shoes, soaking my socks and
pants up to the knees. And it freezes.
The wind carries my 54 kilos of misery along the platform, the cold
penetrating into my bones. Gradually a madness overtakes me. I ask
myself, "What the devil are you freezing here for, go home."
In one second the answer brings me back to reality: "You don't have
a house or home anymore, what you have on you is all that you have!"
A tear rolls from my eye.
Somewhere halfway down my cheek it stops and freezes.
The thawing is still taking place.
native of Prijedor, survivor of Omarska and Trnopolje, living in
exile in Germany these last 23 years, wrote these lines this fall.
More than most of us, he knows how the refugees who are part of the
current wave going into Europe feel.
They left from north Africa and the Middle East, especially from
Syria, Afghanistan, and Libya. They risked their lives to cross the
Mediterranean or to escape into Turkey. Two million of them arrived
there. By the tens of thousands they crossed in flimsy boats to
Greek islands and made their way to the Macedonian border. In the
face of brutality they crossed Macedonia to Serbia and headed north
to Belgrade and then the border with Hungary.
Around this time I was going to Europe and expecting to be in this
very area. Friends reminded me that I would be near the center of
some of the events connected with the refugee influx.
So this last report is not mainly about Bosnia-Herzegovina, but
about the phenomenon popularly called the "refugee crisis" of the
I'm not sure whether it's even appropriate to call it a "refugee
crisis." That takes the humanity out of the situation and makes it
merely a logistical problem. Secondly, there is so much about the
situation that was avoidable and is unnecessary, and is due to
Western militarism and, later, political manipulation.
But, that's how crises are created. You could say, perhaps more
accurately, that it's "crisis of the European Union," or even a
"crisis of humanity."
It is obvious, first of all, that the wars that are producing all
those refugees are the result of very short-term thinking on the
part of the Bushes and Obamas of our world. Their mistake is to
think that they can solve something by removing a dictator (one who
is not to their own liking) without having any shred of a plan about
how to maintain stability.
That error is ongoing, and the rest of the story is how various
actors respond to the flood of desperate people, ordinary people,
good people, trying to survive and find a new home.
Refugees flooding into Europe
By midsummer of 2015 over 20,000 people had applied for refugee
status in Macedonia, three-fourths of them having come from Syria.
At that time, there were 36,000 migrants huddled in just one refugee
camp in Greece.
Macedonia had been attempting to prevent refugees from entering the
country. But the refugees kept on coming. And in any case they,
naturally, did not want to stay in Macedonia. They wanted to go to
By the end of July the Macedonian government changed its policy and
allowed migrants 72 hours of transit time through the country.
Some quotes from refugees around that time:
will never go back to Syria. Never again!"
--"My husband was in the Syrian Army. He lost his eye in a battle.
We wanted to run away earlier, but we didn’t have money"
--"It took us four years to collect the money for this journey. A
journey to a better life, I hope. We sold everything we had, now we
own nothing. We just want to arrive safely in Germany."
By August refugees were crowding Belgrade, sitting in parks near the
main bus station. One said, "We didn’t have a lot of options [about
leaving]. For us it was really a case of the famous Shakespearian
phrase, ‘To be or not be’. We didn’t came here because we were
choosy…We met some girls on our way here who had escaped from
Aleppo. It is really crazy in Aleppo. They are using really bad
weapons there…grenades, bombs…everything. It is no place to live."
There is plenty of racism in Serbia, especially against the
indigenous Roma, and certainly against Arabs and Muslims. But one
policeman said, "The migrants are not causing any problems. But we
do have problems with our own thugs. Especially at night. Some
people try to rob them while they are asleep."
In late August a thousand refugees were crossing into Macedonia each
day. The border authorities lost their heads again and began using
stun grenades and tear gas to chase down refugees and control their
movements. After a couple of days of that, and some very bad
international publicity, they gave up and let the refugees go on
And there were organized private citizens of Macedonia who were
there helping the migrants find their way to the Serbian border.
By this time well over 350,000 migrants had arrived in the EU –
something over 100,000 to Italy alone.
The foreign minister of Italy commented, "On immigration, Europe is
in danger of displaying the worst of itself: selfishness, haphazard
decision-making and rows between member states."
Around that time, a Slovakian spokesperson announced, "We will take
care of about 200 refugees, but they have to be Christians."
On the other hand, prominent Croatian human rights activist Ivan
Zvonimir Čičak said, "Why shouldn't some of those refugees stay in
Croatia? Our Adriatic islands are empty. We try hopelessly to
breathe life into those places for two or three months during the
tourist season. Why shouldn't some of those people who have been
left without a homeland stay on those islands permanently? Come to
us, dear friends!"
In the same vein, though perhaps not as seriously, my friend Švabo,
activist from Kozarac, said that the refugees should be allowed to
inhabit every restored house in his region "gdje su roletne spuštene"
– where the shutters are closed, that is, where people have restored
their houses but leave them empty while living in the diaspora for
most of the year.
However, during the summer it was reported that anti-immigrant
demonstrators in Split, on the Dalmatian coast, carried a sign that
read, "Izbjeglice, izbjegavajte od Splita!" – Refugees, stay
away from Split!
In contrast, in Serbia for the most part authorities received the
migrants well and treated them decently. And ordinary people came
out to the parks and shared food with the travelers and just sat and
talked to them. Police gave toys to the children. A photo of a cop
holding an immigrant kid in his arms went viral. In Preševo
local Albanians took refugees into their homes.
There are decent people in Serbia. And the country's leaders know
what looks good, too. And for that matter, those migrants were never
planning to settle in Serbia.
In Sarajevo a student organization mounted a drive to collect money,
food, clothing, and hygienic items to send to the migrants.
By mid-year migrants filed nearly 70,000 asylum requests in the
first EU country of arrival, Hungary. Not long afterwards, the
right-wing government of that country, headed by Viktor Orbán
– Europe's Donald Trump, as one news article put it – decided to
crack down on the influx of refugees, who were arriving at around
3,000 per day by early September. By this time some 200,000 migrants
had walked into Hungary.
police were moving the migrants onto trains, saying that those would
take them to Austria. But it was a lie; the trains took them to a
chaotic internment camp, where authorities marked numbers on the
arms of migrants with felt-tip pens, and fed them like animals.
Orbán stated, "We shouldn’t forget that the people who are coming
here grew up in a different religion and represent a completely
different culture. Most are not Christian, but Muslim…That is an
important question, because Europe and European culture have
Christian roots." He warned that Europeans now stand to become a
"minority in our own continent."
By early September Hungary was building a razor-wire fence along its
border with Serbia, and threatening a three-year jail term for
anyone climbing over it illegally. Then Hungary closed the rail
crossings from Serbia and declared a state of emergency in two
The last big influx into Hungary, and the greatest in one day, took
place on the 16th of September, when 9,300 migrants crossed into the
country. Then the route between Serbia and Hungary was closed, and
there was chaos for a couple of weeks. People were stuck in Belgrade
and in northern Serbia, without a plan and without a place to go.
Some of them began crossing illegally into Croatia. They walked
through corn fields, determined to continue on their way westward
and northward to Austria and Germany.
Around this time, Austria temporarily suspended free passage of
travelers between Schengen countries, that is, inside of the EU
border-free regime, and began controlling its border with Hungary.
And Slovenia panicked and did the same. A couple of days after the
flow of refugees into Hungary was stopped, Croatia shut its border
Europe had reached a low point in its treatment of the refugees.
Some notes from Andrea
My friend Andrea, a photographer and artist from Vienna, went at
this time to Horgoš,
on the border between Serbia and Hungary, and to Tovarnik, on the
border between Serbia and Croatia, to see if she could help the
refugees. She went with a group of volunteers from her city. She
also volunteered with refugees stranded in Vienna for a time.
Andrea was shocked by what she saw and experienced in those places.
She wrote me in September of her outrage at media manipulation in
its coverage of the "refugee crisis." She also wrote of the
uselessness of international governmental agencies purportedly
trying to help the refugees, and of the difficulty of well-meaning
volunteers to cover the gaps in service. Here is some of what she
Note: Although Andrea's English is not "perfect," it is more than
perfect – her writing has always been some of my favorite. You will
see why; I share it here as is, with her permission.
>>The main media, as usual, shows the "action" shots of almost setup
'stages' - especially in the night at streetcrossings where
reporters and their sat.dishes set up their 'theatre' with big
lights and maaaany cameras. Waiting for the 'riot' to start ---
which of course isn't a riot. It's just the desperation of misplaced
people who want to go west, in the only one bus there is - which is
cordoned off by 100s of robocop-police. i had to pinch myself more
than once in Tovarnik in the night cos i didnt believe where i was,
nor the bizarrness of what was going on right in front of me.
>>The volunteers having to take on complex tasks they shouldn't have
It's ridiculous that a group of socialmedia friends w average age of
25 yrs or less, started - and still maintains after 2 months of
activities - the immediate support for those arriving at our main
train station in vienna, when the NATION DID NOTHING for weeks but
weigh its head. Volunteers, these youngsters take care of people and
organise not just the basic but also a lot more complex needs
(medical help food and shelter, familiy reunions, legal information
distribution and actual legal help). once you start to help there
it's hard to get out. i see that with me. and with others too. you
see its not enough what you do, you do more, you don't stop. that
has consequences on your own life, on your relation to people, to
…the volunteers are forced to learn on their feet, and very quickly,
as all those complex logistical and legal problems get thrown at
them. last wednesday i did a night shift at one ot the stadions (a
bike track stadion!) converted into refugee 'shelter'. in one hall
up to 300 families and kids.
>> after all those months this migration is taking place in europe,
active responsibility of the european nations is still so dammit
minimal. in the news it often says: the army helps here, the red
cross there, they show lots of pictures of large tents and
ok-looking people's faces, they say "no one has to sleep on the
streets, we have shelters for all those people" It's just NOT true.
yes there are big halls being converted to makeshift shelters, but
1. those are just transit-shelters with no followup plans and 2.
again those shelters are run mainly by volunteers who are hardly
ever educated in emergency relief work. and 3. right now there ARE
still people in crap tents and NO tents in the pouring rain in
austria, turned away of some official shelters and being told they
have to look for shelter by themselves .. HALLO ?
…a place only 'run' by volunteers and the red cross is there during
the day and with two people in the night -- but all they do is sit
there. they are not allowed to hand over even an aspirin if someone
has the flu!!!!!! the only purpose of their presence seems to be 1.
their presence (and the suggested "safety" idea) 2. if sth really
really terrible happens (health related only) they are allowed to
bring that person to hospital.
... i find
it hugely provocative to send people in suits and uniform to
represent safety --- without actually following up on that
suggestion. what a mean trick of warfare ! gawd i get so angry.
same as when i was in Horgoš a month ago: excuse me - the UN did
fuck all - wearing their blue vests, again suggesting hope to people
… but they are just bare of any responsibility which comes with that
damn blue colour !!! every time i talked to a blue vest person i
hoped that one will be less in love with diplomacy .. they were
friendly but every conversation ended with "sorry we cant help .. "
being surrounded by such mess, i focused on the stuff i actually
could do - and tried to find things where i was making sth or
someone better. and ignored the socalled 'official organisations'
and their fuck-all-job.<<
Quite movingly, Andrea wrote of a different problem, but still our
problem: the private and public indifference of some of her friends
and colleagues back home in Vienna. She starts with her own feelings
actual thinking and understanding of the dynamics of what was going
on there at the border, only happened when i was back in vienna in
my safe flat. thats where i m now. not so happy.
The experiences of Horgoš trip threw me into some strange place
since i m back. i expected some effects. but y can't really prepare
for those moments when you see humanity being dead - just dead, like
it never existed. i wasn't in a post war place, nor at the edges of
the dark. i was right in the middle of it, Horgoš.
There are consequences cos i was staring into that abyss, how to get
back to that other daily life, how do i find enough energies and
motivation to focus on working on seemingly banal things…I'm totally
out of my 'routine' if i had any.
Since 2-3 weeks i wake up w refugees in my head, faces and stories.
some i met and helped, many i only read about. my mornings are
reading twitter feeds and refugee support lists over coffee. and
trying to plan how i can do more again…mayb i m just a turning point
again, some decisions need to b made where to go next. leaving that
safety-pad-vienna again for good. I tried to
talk with a few people about my 'experiences', and found myself more
often than not in the position of having to defend my urges to do
sth and not just talk and make it a sport to exchange the latest
refugeecrisis status quo -- how i hate that word <refugeecrisis>.
what a manipulative way to summarise what was set up by the wealthy
nations - the wealthy ones always being the suppressedagressive ones
too .. suprisesuprise. i
understand the principle of not being bothered if it's not right in
front of your doorstep - like literally *at-your-doorstep*. but this
stuff happens about 5km-10km away from my flat! thousands of new
arriving people in dispair every bloody day and night. so how can
you not notice and FEEL PROPERLY BOTHERED and find other outlets of
response but pub-gossip ? people here think the situation is being
taken careof .. and many volunteers help, ahhh so good those
vounteers. well and thats the end of addressing the topic any
further. and then they talk about the weather again or their kids or
the prices. My social
surroundings mainly feel uncomfortable around that topic. it's
disappointing. and their responses hurt me more than what i see in a
camp or at the trainstation. my social circles shrink, and in
isolation grasping all that stuff isnt really working well. i keep
wondering how fulltimejob relief workers handle that stuff. how do
you ? << Chaos between Serbia and Croatia
With the border between Croatia and Serbia closed down, thousands of
migrants were stuck in Vojvodina, the northern Serbian province
bordering on Croatia. And Slovenia was turning back some of those
who had managed to enter Croatia and travel through to the western
border. The Croatian Minister of Internal Affairs addressed a
message to the migrants: "Do not come here anymore, our capacities
are strained. Stay in the collection centers in Serbia, Macedonia,
and Greece. This is not the route to Europe and the buses cannot
take you there."
By this time well over ten thousand refugees had entered Croatia.
The president of the country called on the army to be ready to
respond to the situation. Refugees were finding ways to cross into
Croatia regardless of the closure; by three weeks into September,
over 50,000 had entered.
The refugee issue in Croatia became part of the electoral campaign,
with some people advocating for their rights, and others doing the
Trump thing. Social-democratic Prime Minister Zoran Milanović
said, "What is happening in Hungary is disgusting. That will not
happen in Croatia. We will not construct a wire fence, although in
Croatia too there are those who would be most glad to see this
Relations between Serbia and Croatia, never particularly easy, were
at a low point, and in this situation, it seemed that Serbia had the
higher moral ground. And Croatian, Serbian, and other truckers,
traveling in both directions, became collateral damage in the
conflict, as they were forced to stand idle at the border, with
their goods rotting.
The bad economics of border closure contributed to pressure on the
Croatian government. The obstruction of truck traffic did not last
long; the blockage of refugees lasted a bit longer. Finally, in
October Croatia opened its borders; by mid-month at least 100,000
migrants had entered Croatia, with most of them heading directly –
by bus, train, or by foot – for Slovenia.
From then on, the passage of refugees to Austria and Germany worked
more smoothly, although there were periodic fits of tension when one
country would threaten to close its borders, and the country to its
south would threaten that country.
There was nervousness, meanwhile, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as to
whether the stream of refugees could deflect and start entering what
was probably the country least equipped to take care of a large
influx of refugees. Mercifully, this never came true, as borders to
the north remained open.
With the mid-November terrorist attack in Paris, demagogues began to
blame the first victims of ISIL: the refugees. There was talk in
Serbia of heightened surveillance and security measures with regard
to those passing through the country. In Sarajevo the city observed
a day of mourning for the victims in Paris.
In that month, with cold weather coming on, the stream of refugees
entering Europe diminished by one-third, but that still meant that
nearly 150,000 came across the sea. And figures at year's end
approached a million entering Europe, most of them having crossed
the Mediterranean. This was almost five times people as many as had
come that route in 2014. Over 3,500 of those who attempted the
crossing drowned or disappeared. At least half of the immigrants
were from Syria, and another fifth were from Afghanistan.
Probably half the people I know in Bosnia-Herzegovina are displaced
people, or they were displaced or made refugees during the war. I
spoke about the refugee situation with Beba Hadžić, herself displaced
from Srebrenica. When the big influx to Europe was starting up
earlier in the year, Beba had traveled to Slovakia for a visit. On
the way, she saw the crowds of refugees in Hungary.
Beba said, "It brings back all of what we lived through. When you're
a refugee, it's a very humiliating situation. You don't have
anything. You might be educated, and end up washing cars. All I had
to work with when I had to flee Srebrenica was what I knew. I was
lucky that my mother had always encouraged me to learn things. I had
learned to drive. I even drove a Land Rover. And I was in a very
responsible position in Srebrenica, in the school."
As we talked about this, I felt a feeling of dread and horror.
Beba continued, "When people are young, they say, 'I want to be a
doctor; I want to be a teacher.' I don't believe anyone ever said
they wanted to be a refugee. For a young child, it's hard to change
from one bed to another, even in the same room. It's that much
harder to change countries. No one leaves home of their own will."
It reminds me now of the poem by Somali poet Warsan Shire that soon
went viral, which starts like this:
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
For just a few unsettling photos of refugees along their passage to
the site of an article about the Serbian photographer Marko
Drobnjaković. The title of the article is, "Refugees will make
I particularly appreciate Drobnjaković's comment, thus: "I do not
photograph anyone who does not wish to be photographed, whether they
tell me this themselves, or I feel some tension or awkwardness when
I lift up the camera. If someone needs help, then of course I will
help and I don't care if I have the photo or not. I sincerely
empathize with people who I am photographing, their fate affects me.
If I consider that my presence in some situation would cause someone
emotional pain or endanger them in any way, then I simply find
something else to photograph. The pictures are everywhere, they are
waiting for us to see them." Wrapping up 2015 with a mixed record
The whole fiasco of the migrants' reception brings into question the
meaning of "values," whether they be "Christian," "European," or
whatever. I should point out here that the United States only looked
better by virtue of its distance from the immediate problem – but by
the end of November, since 2011 it had only accepted some 2,300
Syrians across its borders. This, while the governors of more than
thirty states declared, illegally, that they would refuse entry to
Syrian refugees, and hate crimes including attacks against mosques
If we could think about humane values, without any other label,
maybe we could remember that hospitality and concern about the
suffering of fellow humans should be high on any list of anybody's
values. It would be good to remember that being European, or white,
or Christian, or a member of any other ethnicity, nationality, or
religion, is not a moral category, despite what the demagogues would
have us believe.
I would recognize one bright point in this whole story, and that is
that ultimately – so far, at least – Germany has passed the test of
humane-ness by keeping its borders open. That has prevented more
suffering and political instability all down the route of migration.
This is partly due to pragmatic wisdom on the part of Germany's
leadership; Angela Merkel is particularly aware of the possible
repercussions of instability in southeast Europe. She had to
pressure, and nearly threaten, her own government to keep the
One also hears that Germany, a country of low indigenous population
growth, needs the labor force. Articles backing this up, with
varying figures attached, proliferate. In this, central Europe is
like the United States, which would have negative population growth
were it not for immigration – including undocumented immigration,
which is crucial to parts of our economy.
As if to corroborate this need Merkel, in a New Year's address,
noted that Germany had received vast numbers of applicants for
asylum in 2015, and commented that in the end it would all prove
worthwhile, "because states have always had use for successful
immigration, in an economic and social sense."
Various analysts predict that in 2016 the influx of refugees to
Europe could be as large or larger than in the past year. Let us
hope that humane values win out and that the process for their
transit to places where they can be welcomed will be much smoother
than this year.
That is the test to be passed. The world has already failed in the