- Image 1 of 3
- Image 2 of 3
- Image 3 of 3
Published July 12, 2016
Afghan migrant Zaher Rajawi can't believe his bad luck. He's stuck only a few short steps from European Union soil in a Balkan refugee camp that is gradually turning into a humanitarian nightmare amid scorching heat.
Hundreds of migrants arrive daily to Serbia's border with Hungary, packing inside a makeshift tent settlement without toilets, showers and with only one tap of running water as Hungary introduced new measures meant to try to keep them out of the EU.
"This is the problem. There's no toilets, no place to take a shower. It is very difficult for us," Rajawi said. "They (the Hungarians) let each day only 15 people. If (they let) more, it gets better for us. Because, we are human, we need human rights here."
In what appears to be another refugee crisis in the making in Europe, the numbers are surging at this camp and other ones on Serbia's border with EU country Hungary. The numbers have been growing since last week, when Hungary introduced forced deportations of migrants caught within 8 kilometers (5 miles) of border fences.
Hungary has also restricted the number of people who can apply for asylum in the country to 15 a day.
Smugglers are helping most of the would-be refugees to make their way into Serbia through Bulgaria and Macedonia. Once in Serbia, they first arrive in Belgrade before spreading out to the different places on the border with Hungary.
At the makeshift camp in Horgos, most of the people are Afghans. About 30 kilometers (20 miles) east, another camp holds mostly Syrians. The settlements are for those who want to cross into Hungary legally by applying for asylum. The majority of migrants try to cross illegally, mostly with the help of people smugglers.
On Monday, children cried as mothers shielded their young ones from scorching summer heat on a barren plain with only a few trees in Horgos. Men tried to collect enough food to keep their families fed at a dusty tent city in the no man's land between Serbia and Hungary.
Hungary's restrictions are causing a bottleneck at the border. More than 1,000 have already piled up in the Horgos camp, which is starting to resemble the sprawling refugee settlement on the border between Greece and Macedonia. Greek authorities cleared out that camp in April after dwellers had held out hope for months that Balkan border closures might be reversed.
The new Hungarian rules, reinforced by a heavy army and police presence, allow their security forces to return across the border to Serbia the migrants detained within 8 kilometers (5 miles) of the Hungarian border fences protected by razor wire. That basically means Hungary wants to all but halt the flow across its border, and empty its refugees camps by returning migrants back to Serbia.
Hungary has already returned 621 people they caught within that border radius in the week since the measures were introduced, according to police figures released Tuesday. Hungarian authorities have also prevented 1,359 migrants from crossing right at the border in the same time period.
Thousands of migrants have still been making their way through the Balkans and central Europe, many using people smugglers who take them over borders unnoticed.
The U.N. refugee agency says the number of refugees and migrants on the Serbian side of the border with Hungary has doubled to above 1,300 since last week — the majority of them women and children. More than 1 million migrants crossed the Balkans last year to reach Western Europe before the route officially closed in March.
Mohammad Mortada from Kabul says he is willing to wait to cross to the EU, but isn't sure for how long.
"For us it is OK, but children cannot tolerate living in here," he said. "Dust and everything, the sun, hot weather, it's very difficult for them."
Serbian officials are also unhappy as the Hungarian measures have led to the pileup of migrants on their side of the border.
"That means that the Balkans route still exists and Europe and our neighbors are turning a blind eye," Serbia government minister Aleksandar Vulin said. "Serbia will not allow itself to become a (European) parking lot for the migrants."
Near the makeshift camp in no man's land, there is a fish pond where men migrants take a swim to cool down and clean up. Hungarian border guards watch tentatively just a few meters over the razor wire fence. Local Serbs are unhappy as they say the migrants pollute the waters while shampooing.
The local Serbs tried to scare them away.
"They said there are crocodiles in the pond," said Mohammad, 18. "We told them, crocodiles? No worry, we escaped from much bigger threats ... Afghanistan."