German activists are building mobile power stations for cell phones and other electronic devices, providing food and water, and handing out information that refugees are using to travel along the Balkan Route. This is no easy task, as asylum seekers are brutalized and herded like cattle onto trains by state authorities at almost every stop. Check out the video they made (shocking/graphic), and then the interview we did with them below:
What services did your organization provide to refugees along the Balkan route?
There were countless refugees charging their phones on our stations. Especially in Sid (Serbia), as many refugees didn’t know where they were or where they where going to end up.
Serbian authorities didn’t tell the refugees where the buses were taking them, or give them any sort of direction. So besides charging their phones, we also provided them with information on their current location, and which stations the bus would take them to.
What devices and technology did you use to make the stations?
We used mobile power banks, which are essentially just enormous batteries. We charge the power banks while we sleep. Some of our power banks are solar, so in the day they can be charged and used by refugees at the same time.
Why is it so important to have mobile charging stations set up for refugees in transit?
The tactics of the camp-regimes in many Croatian and Slovenian camps are similar to the things we know went on in concentration camps during the second world war.
Authorities shoved refugees into buses and trains, and closed the door on them no matter how full the vehicles were. Many families were separated during this process. They use their cell phones to find each other on the Balkan route, but also to get information about the border situation, and to find the next stations.
Many times, refugees get stuck for days before they are allowed to continue their journey, and need cell phones to collect information about why they are stuck, and how long they will be in their current location. Sometimes, they get stuck because authorities refuse to let them continue their journey without telling them where they are going and why.
They also use their cell phones to warn other refugees about certain camps, such as the Opatovac camp in Croatia. We were inside the camp and the conditions were shocking.
Refugees were walking in single file lines while cops screamed in their faces and occasionally beat them. We felt like we were in a World War II movie in Opatovac.
Living in the camp is a traumatic experience for refugees – especially those who thought they had just entered the “democratic and free” European Union. After crossing the Serbian/Croatian border, the first things that asylum seekers experience are torture and incarceration.
What other kinds of help is your crew offering refugees?
We provided hot tea to the refugees, but also blankets, warm jackets, rain capes, disposable diapers, pullovers, and shoes. Many refugees were wearing flip-flops in zero degree temperatures, and were very happy to get some warm shoes. Talking with people is a key component of the operation. Many refugees are confused while they are forced into the buses and trains by police forces, and need direction and resources.
What are the camp conditions like?
The camp conditions, especially in Croatia and Slovenia, are nightmarish (see photos above). The Opatovac camp in Croatia (which was closed a few days ago as there is a new camp in Slavonski Brod) was the first one refugees were brought to as they entered the European Union at the Brekasovo/Bapska border crossing, which is between Serbia and Croatia.
The camp is full of police, and the refugees had to sleep in tents without a heater during negative temperatures, many of them on the floor or on pallets.
When the tents were full, they had to sleep outside. The refugees were forced into the camp, including those who had money – there is no way out until the authorities decide to move them.
As soon as they step off the bus, they have to stand in line while guards yell orders at them. The Opatovac camp had 4 sectors, and refugees are not allowed to leave their assigned sector. When people ask for so much as a blanket from the guards, they are beaten. Refugees told us that the police also brutalized them inside of their tents so no one could see.
The last night we were there, refugees were not even allowed to walk freely in their own sectors anymore. Policemen brought them to their tents and they were quarantined. Some refugees compared their experience to those of Guantanamo prisoners.
Personally I will never forget the policemen patrolling on a hill that they constructed near the camp.
We could not see what was going on behind the hill, but refugees later told us that policemen beat people behind it in the red and yellow sector. The other thing I’ll never forget is the refugees walking in a single file line, and the officers yelling “One line! No not two.. Walk in one line! Only one person!” You could see the horror and the fear in people’s eyes.
After Croatia, the refugees came to Slovenia. Slovenia has become completely militarized. The refugees are received by policemen and soldiers with machine guns. While we were in Ljubljana, army helicopters were flying over the city constantly. The Slovenian camps in Brezice and Dobova are similar to the ones i saw in Croatia. The Slovenian police forced the refugees into the camps, locked them up, and consistently beat them. The Slovenian police also used teargas and pepperspray against refugees, especially when a group of refugees try to refuse to go into the camps.
Have far right actors or state authorities interfered with your efforts?
Yes and no. The second day we were on the Balkan Route, there was a blockade at the Austrian/Slovenian border, so we organized a counter protest with activists from Austria, Germany, Italy, and Slovenia in Spelfeld, Austria.
After that we tried to deliver aid to the refugee camp in Sentilj, whcih is on the Slovenian side of the border. The Slovenian police refused to let us come near the camp. Some people tried to enter from another direction but were also stopped. In Opatovac (Croatia), people were also denied entry to the camp at different times. Nobody knew why the Croatian police let some people in and then refused them again a few hours later. Filming and taking pictures was prohibited in most of the camps, but people managed to film with a secret camera.