This is the story of 12 friends, 11 from Syria and 1 from France. The journal from their trip, from July 15 to August 15, passing the borders, from Turkey to Syria.
(Nafar in Arabic is the one without name, without right, a number in the mass, and it is how the smugglers are calling their clients: “He is only a pocket of money”).
Part 3: The Balkan Way
The train from the Greek-Macedonian border left us 10 minutes away by walking from the Serbian border. In the dark, about 500 hundreds persons started their walk along the railways. All those walking shadows and the general atmosphere were unreal. With a sense of urgency, we were going forward through the pools and bushes, everybody looking for the members of its group. Those who felt strong enough were helping carry the children. Some were well equipped while some were following wearing flipflops or pushing strollers.
Half an hour later, we could catch sight of moving lights. We kept walking in this direction because we were hoping to reach the border and because we didn’t have any other choice actually. But those lights were the lamps of hooded policemen who blocked us and gathered us in a middle of a wasteland near the railways without saying a single word. Hundred people had already been blocked there since the day before. Sitting around camp fires, they told us that the Serbian police were threatening them to send them back to Macedonia but they were staying there, waiting. Their plan was to spend the night there and take their chance to cross the border the day after anyway.
The train passengers were still arriving, groups after groups, and were keeping the policemen busy enough to create a diversion. That’s why, quickly, we made the decision to take this opportunity and take advantage of this clear night (it was full moon) to cross the border without waiting.
We went back among the crowd of passengers and started our crossing. We drew away from the railways and spent 4 hours walking, running, hidding ourselves behing bushes with our GPS app on the phone to guide us.
If you get caught within 5 kilometers after the border, you can still be brought back to Macedonia. After a night of stress and walk, we absolutely wanted to avoid it. So, we kept walking to the first village, Presevo, where we were hoping to be able to find a camp and get registered.
There is a Facebook page where 75,000 members (mostly Syrians but also Egyptians, Palestinians or Iraqis) explain every stage of the trip. They give all kind of information about smugglers, police, hotels, places to avoid, prices of train tickets, etc. You can also find things about the sea forecast and number of dead people on the way or even the asylum conditions in different European countries. And pictures or selfies of people on the road as well. This page is the reflection of the current massive exodus and its virtual revolution. A year ago, migrants were hidding themselves, they were not talking about their future trip even to their close relations and communicating with each others using codes. But today, there are even Facebook pages where smugglers show their offers, pictures of migrants are shared everywhere on the web and details are openly discussed on the phone. It’s from this Facebook page that we learned to which village we should walk to.
In the last kilometer before the train station of Presevo, a young Serbian guy offered us a ride by taxi for 50 Euros per person. His argument was that if the police would catch us here we would be directly sent back to Macedonia. We didn’t believe him and indeed we were in the front of the camp doors 15 minutes later.
There, we had to wait our turn to get registered by the police and to receive a document allowing us to go on with our trip. In total, we waited for 2 days in a queue on the sidewalk, sleeping outside on the ground and eating tasteless and prohibitively expensive sandwiches, the only kind of food we could get without loosing our place in the line. The whole youth of the village seemed to earn money through black market, taking advantage of the current situation. They were selling SIM cards, offering their car as a taxi for those who don’t want to wait 2 or 3 days in those conditions and are willing to reach Hungary as soon as possible, etc.
In Serbia, police delivers a document that allows migrants to stay 72 hours on the territory. Without it, it’s not possible to get on a train or to book a room in an hotel in town. That’s why we made the decision to wait despite the terrible conditions. By chance there was a mosque nearby the camp where we could “have a shower”, wash some clothes and fill our plastic bottles.
After 2 days of waiting time, we were finally allowed to enter the camp. Once inside, impossible to get out. It’s obviously an open air militarized prison. We had been fully searched and had to go through a medical examination before wainting again for hours to get the famous paper without which we couldn’t continue our journey. Inside the camp, again, toilets are sordid and the food given to women and children is expired. In this condition, the strain increases, everybody tries to go past everybody and the intercommunity racism explodes: “But what the fuck those Africans are doing here, we are getting off the war!”, “It’s the fault of all those Syrians if we are treated this way!”, each nationality accusing the other and the atmosphere is getting more and more oppressive.
Once we got the right paper, we got released and once again we were waiting for a train, the one for Belgrade. Some young Serbians were still trying to sell whatever they could to us and the rumor spread that gangs were going around the woods to attack and rob migrants.
Around 2 am we finally got in a “special nafarat” train where the ticket inspectors tried again to ask for twice the price of the regular ticket (once again, we couldn’t buy it at the train station). But this time, fortified by our previous experience in the Macedonian train, we were ready and started our little revolution. We were aware that the normal price was 12 Euros and we went in each and every compartment to tell everybody not pay the 20 Euros they asked for. The ticket inspectors were pissed off but couldn’t do nothing against this mini organized rebellion. We got the smile! In the middle of the night, they tried again to charge us with 30 Euros more, threatening us to call the police. No doubt that this argument is usually working on constantly freaked passengers. But this time, our strategy worked and nobody paid. Nevermind, call the police! They didn’t show up anymore until we reached Belgrade.
“11 Nafar and 1 human”
We are a group of 12 people, 12 young persons full of hope and dreams, that met in Syria or in Turkey, and decided to go together to Europe. In the group, there is a doctor, a judge, 2 architects, a lawyer, 1 painter, 1 designer, a film maker, a social worker, a cook, an actor and a first-aider. Half of the group couldn’t continue their studies because of the war. Most of them escaped to Turkey some years before the decision to try their chance and cross the sea. But staying in Turkey means accepting to stay where there is no opportunity to work legally or to study. It means accepting to wait, only wait, for the situation to change. But our youth won’t last that long. In the group there are 11 Syrians and one French. For her, with her passport, the borders are open. In this system she is a human, she has the right and the possibility to be wherever she wants to. For different reasons, but with the common will of living this experience all together, we left Istanbul and are now on our way to a country where the nafarats could be humans again. At least, this is the goal.