Balkan Route: Increased Arrivals in Serbia Amid Evictions and Raids, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria Introduce Internal Border Checks to Curb Migration

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The latest report of September by Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) noted an apparent increase in arrivals in Serbia amid the authorities’ inability to provide adequate conditions. In Northern Serbia, some of the state-run camps are overcrowded, despite the number of arrivals at this period similar to same period last year. In Subotica One Stop Centre, several people, including women and young children, live outside due to the camp’s policy of not accepting families. ECRE member Asylum Protection in Serbia communicated on 20 November that refugees no longer live in camps in Horgoš, in Subotica and now in Sombor, adding that as a part of a large police operation that took place on 19-18 November, at least 20 buses took migrants to camps in the south and on the Croatian border, in Adasevac and Šid. The NGO shared on 21 November a video of poor conditions in an asylum center in Obrenovac in Belgrade where at least 1000 migrants were relocated from locations and camps along the borders with Serbia, adding that “Only UNHCR and IOM can enter, and all activities of in the center are suspended. In front of the camp, about 40 newly arrived persons, among them unaccompanied minors” (translated). The NGO later intervened and allowed five unaccompanied minors into the center and urged the local authorities to assign a guardian. On 17 November, the organisation reported about “700 refugees and children staying with adults in the camp” in Preševo, calling on the national authorities to “react quickly and efficiently, recognize this vulnerable category and provide them with accommodation in social protection institutions”. On 16 November, another video was shared from the overcrowded Sombor transit camp where mostly refugees from Syria are staying. “In the past 2 weeks, their freedom of movement was de facto limited, but now they have the opportunity to go to a store or a pharmacy”, the organisation noted. Besides, BVMN report also noted ongoing raids and evictions especially late at night and pick-up and checks around gas stations during the day, underlining “a particularly alarming incident on September 5th when over 350 individuals were detained in a single day”. Additionally, the report marked the presence of the European Border Agency (Frontex) officers and vehicles along the border with Croatia as well as the Serbian Gendarmerie.

Less than a year after Croatia joined the Schengen zone, the authorities introduced temporary border checks due to an increase in irregular crossings through the Balkan route. Additionally, the Croatian authorities are opening a camp for the registration and processing of incoming migrants who mainly come through the country’s border with Bosnia. “People ask themselves what kind of fence could stop these people who passed so many frontiers and countries,” said Perica Matijevic, the head of the Krnjak municipality near Croatia’s border with Bosnia, adding that locals are “tired” of seeing migrants passing by. Meanwhile, migrants report about being treated “like animals” by the Croatian police which often was allegedly accused of using violence against people on the move. Atefa, a 29-year-old female Afghan refugee testified that the police officers forced her along with eight fellow migrants to collect garbage and poured water in their shoes. The officers reportedly “groped women and made obscene noises”. “My breasts are still hurting me … and they did all that with a smile,” Atefa said from a camp in Bosnia’s Bihac.

Slovenia extended its internal border checks along borders with Croatia and Hungary until 9 December. Thus, from 22 December, the border checks will be reinstalled for a period of six months. The authorities said that these checks aim to reduce the threat of “security risks” although the competent services suggest that the security situation will not change for at least another six months. Meanwhile, the Slovenian authorities criticized Austria for installing internal control checks along its border calling them “ineffective” and “disproportionate” measures in the “prevention” of migration as the “Slovenian police have not detected any increase in irregular crossings at the shared border with Austria, and the number of joint borders is negligible”.

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