I spent a large part of today near the Slovenian-Croatian border in the towns of Dobova and Brezice where a logjam of migrants making their way to northern Europe is becoming particularly acute. As usual, children, like the girl above, are making the most of the surreal situation they find themselves in only because they happened to be born in Syria or Afghanistan.
I’ll write more about my experiences today over the next few days but the immediate problem here in Slovenia is essentially this: Since Hungary sealed its border last weekend, Croatia has been moving way more migrants across the border than Slovenia has the capacity to process, house and transport in an orderly way. (That Slovenia insists on dealing with a something so extraordinary in an orderly fashion is a whole ‘nother matter.) Migrants aren’t being ferried only to the designated agreed upon areas; Croatian authorities are delivering people, unannounced, to both minor border crossings as well as the proverbial “middle of nowhere”, forcing people to cross wide muddy fields, ford rivers and creeks and slush through marshes. Which means many are arriving in Slovenia wet, cold and sick, only to be forced, in many cases, to spend the night in the open because there simply aren’t enough centers in which to house them.
Just yesterday, about 9,000 migrants entered Slovenia. Officials are predicting that the figure will peak and trend for a while at about 10,000, the numbers that are still arriving in Greece daily with the hopes of reaching Germany and Scandinavia before the heart of winter hits.
The migrants, most of whom have already been traveling between 40 and 50 days from as far as Syria, Afghanistan and Iran, just want to keep moving. Predictably, tempers begin to flare when they can’t. Today a fire broke out at the refugee camp in Brezice. Spreading rapidly, it destroyed 27 of the facility’s 46 tents. Reports are sketchy — some are claiming the fire was set deliberately as a protest while others say it spread accidentally from one of the many small campfires that migrants used to take the edge off the night and early morning chill. Police haven’t issued their official report. A couple images of the damage are below; check the links for 12 images I filed for Corbis / Demotix.
My first stop was in Dobova, the settlement that is officially the rail entry point into the EU’s border-free Schengen zone on the line to the Croatian capital Zagreb. At the moment, regularly scheduled passenger trains aren’t crossing here. Just a few minutes walk from the station is a vacant former textile factory that was turned into a makeshift refugee center a few days ago. Below, a man ponders the mid-morning fog and a boy plays with fire. And below that, the Slovenian army, which was granted temporary policing powers by parliament on Tuesday night, setting up shop. That idea makes me nervous. Pengovsky, my go-to for many things political here, explains why. A few more images from the Dobova camp filed for Corbis / Demotix.
A few hours after the fire was put out, 1300 people were eventually moved out of the Brezice camp. The process was very orderly, the migrants and police, both already pushed to their limits, patient and calm. Quite a few were smiling, too. A few more snaps from the Brezice camp below, and 21 in all filed for Corbis / Demotix. More tomorrow or Friday.