By Ginevra Canessa, Letizia De Palo and Zelda Mccormick. Photos by Isa Eguiguren
Yesterday, on 2nd November, we visited the official camp for refugees and people on the move placed in Subotica, as part of our weekly routine only to find it completely empty. A place usually hosting more than 300 people on the move including men, women, young kids and families was suddenly deserted.
We soon learned that on Tuesday evening (31/10) police had come to the camp with 5 buses to forcibly and violently take people away. We were told that this process involved police beatings and violence. We do not know where these people were taken but it seems the closure of all Serbian camps is part of the latest state-sponsored action to clamp down on illegal migration on the border between Serbia and Hungary.
- Reportedly, the official camps in Sombor, Horgos and Belgrade are also being closed.
These new measures come after three people were killed in armed clashes in the area of Horgos, in Northern Serbia. Publicly taking an action against armed gangs in the area Serbian and Hungarian police agreed to work together to tackle smuggling groups and “irregular” migration. With the new agreement, Serbian police have been conducting operations in the forested area alongside the border with Hungary, involving Special Anti-Terrorist Unit, Gendarmerie, police helicopters, and even tanks.
A video was recently released showing military and police forces raiding hostels and informal accommodations searching for people-smugglers. The 7-minutes clip is accompanied by music recalling a war video game. Armed military forces with their faces covered are filmed whilst they arrest and evict people from their accommodations.
The deal is, officially, “Against People-Smugglers” but in practise the action is against everybody
Before today, we had been witnessing increased police presence at Subotica camp, favouring a constant climate of fear for the people who are not allowed inside of the camp. On our last distribution at Subotica camp, guards told us to leave from the outside area of the camp. As we arrived, the state-owned TV broadcast RTV was filming a scene that we had never seen before: hundreds of people queuing inside of the camp to receive food. But the reality we see every week at camp is very different.
Every week, at Subotica camp, we as No Name Kitchen support more than 300 people who regularly report to us that access to food is limited to a small minority. Additionally, the food provided lacks appropriate nutritional values, forcing people- at least those who can afford it- to buy food from a small business in front of the camp. Today, we learnt that the eviction of people from the camp happened on the same day, in the evening, after TV had been brought to broadcast in the morning.
It therefore seems that these two actions are part of the same strategy – that of assuming (or propagandistically so) control of illegal migration passing through Serbia. Supposedly, the joint Hungarian-Serbian action aims to tackle gangs involved in people smuggling – but the ones bearing the brunt seem to be all people on the move.
These moves come at a particular time – the Serbian parliamentary elections are coming up in December. On Friday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic warned that if the interior minister would not take control of the situation, he would bring in the army to the north of the country.
At the same time, European countries- such as Italy and Slovenia- are ramping up pressure on the Balkan route by tightening borders within the Schengen area, [due to security concerns tied to the Middle East.].
People, hidden in forest, tell that they are literally starving
These political maneuvers have also been affecting our work and other organisations’ activities. Stop and search of our cars and personal belongings are happening everyday.
During a distribution in the area of Horgos, Serbian police and FRONTEX inflicted physical violence with a baton on a member of another organization with which we collaborate here in Subotica. Discouraging solidarity-led groups in the area seems to be a worrying underside of this new political action.
We denounce the violence that is taking place on the Serbian-Hungarian border and the increased criminalisation of people-on-the-move. We are witnessing political propaganda moves that the Serbian government, supported by the EU and its partners, are putting in place to justify a manhunt against people-on-the-move.