“Everyone Wants To Go To The Rich West” – Our Report from the Serbian-Hungarian Border

Main entrance of the reception center set up by Serbian authorities in Subotica, Serbia. (Photo: FactRefuge / Mariska Mediahuis)

More and more countries want EU money for new or better fences for their borders to stop illegal migration, the European summit on migration shows. What iss it like at these external borders? FactRefuge went out to investigate. “I’m stuck in no man’s land”

All along the continent, 13 European countries now have over 2,000 kilometers of fences to stop illegal immigrants. These fences are built and paid for by the countries themselves. The taxpayers of these countries also pay for police control. In total, 13 percent of the entire European land border is fenced.

Hungary was the first country to build fences to keep illegal refugees out of Europe. Along the entire border between Serbia and Hungary, some 175 kilometers long, is a double fence four meters high with razor wire. Factrefuge visited the border between Hungary and Serbia and examined how, after nearly eight years, the people living near the border and the mostly illegal migrants experience it.


Röszke: Warm Summers Used To Be Hot and Dangerous Summers

In the provincial village of Röszke, in southern Hungary, three kilometers from Serbia is a friendly hotel, Forró Fogadó, which a family has run for 36 years. When mass migration swept through the Balkans in 2015, Röszke became something of a refugee camp through which many of the immigrants passed. “In my hotel and in my garden about a hundred police officers were staying,” the owner says. “That of course scared off my customers. They saw all those officers in uniforms and left without checking in. But oh well, it was necessary.”

The immigrants who arrived in Röszke all moved on to the rich West, says the hotel owner. “Here they left a trail of trash. They broke into our gardens at night, which we found destroyed and eaten empty the next morning.”

His daughter, a young woman with long dark hair, says that many women her age were afraid of the mostly young men passing through their town. “Our hotel is in this village, but we live in Szeged, a town ten kilometers from here. That’s where most of the immigrants went. They broke into houses and went to sleep in the beds of the residents. Those had to stay elsewhere. A young man also tried to break into mine, but I was able to keep the door shut.”

Town Hall in Röszke, Hungary (Photo: Vencel Milei / Wikimedia Commons)
Town Hall in Röszke, Hungary (Photo: Vencel Milei / Wikimedia Commons)


Many Hungarian residents around the border region put their heart and soul into helping the immigrants in 2015, says the young woman. “We donated clothes and canned food. But they didn’t take those. They just threw our donated clothes and cans of food on the roadside and walked on. What we gave them was too little for them.”

In Röszke, it is over 30 degrees in late May. In the center of the tiny village, stands a small café where three men drink beer on the shaded terrace. The bartender pours a Coke and tells how every night immigrants climb over the fence and walk through the Hungarian forests. “They are all men, 90 percent are from Africa,” he observes. “I have two teenage daughters. They want to go out at night, of course. But they can’t. It’s not safe here anymore with these single, young African men. Me and my friends leave our daughters at home.” A man standing at the bar nods in agreement. “They are mostly economic refugees. They want to go to Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands. The rich countries. They want a house, money and furniture without working for it. And we are happy that they don’t stay here and leave as soon as they cross the Hungarian border.”

There are two border crossings at Röszke. One over the highway and a smaller one, accessible by the county road. All cars are checked. The driver must get out, and show the whole car. Large suitcases must be opened to see if this contains an immigrant. “I had to wait for an hour in the hot sun,” says a Serb who has just crossed the Hungarian border through the high way. “I often work in Hungary and this costs us so much time all the time.”

Cars waiting to cross the border in Horgos, on the Serbian side of the border crossing in Röszke (Photo: FactRefuge / Mariska Mediahuis)
Cars waiting to cross the border in Horgos, on the Serbian side of the border crossing in Röszke (Photo: FactRefuge / Mariska Mediahuis)


In Serbia, a young man walks past the train station with brisk strides. He explains that he, like most of the residents of his town of Subotica, is angry at the immigrants who bivouac en masse in his town of Subotica which is located in northern Serbia. “Sometimes we hear that they rape our women. My girlfriend always has her phone with her. If there is anything, I or her father are with her within five minutes,” he says. “The immigrants steal, destroy gardens and houses and make mess. And it’s only men, why don’t they take their wife and children with them when it’s so dangerous in their country and their house is destroyed? We would never do that.”

At night, according to the Serb, the immigrants are in the refugee camp and during the day they hang out at the local Lidl. “Here they beg for money even though they have the latest iPhone, which I can’t afford. They get pocket money and free food and shelter and want money from me. Then I say: fuck off!”

A short distance from the city center, accessible by a provincial country road, is the refugee camp. In front of the entrance, about fourteen cabs are waiting for immigrants who have saved enough money to be taken to the border or across the border. When the cab drivers realize there are journalists taking pictures, they become furious. One man walks toward the journalist with his chest out and his fists clenched. “Now give me your phone,” he yells. “Fuck off, you’re not supposed to be here.” A woman who indicates she works at the refugee camp asks if the reporter wants to leave. No journalists are allowed near or inside the camp, she explains. Not even to briefly to use the restroom, it turns out. “There are only single men here. It is far too dangerous for a woman to enter here,” says a male guard sitting in a white wooden booth near the camp’s entrance.

Meanwhile, two immigrants from the refugee camp get into a cab and shout that the reporters should not photograph them. Two new cabs arrive and the drivers get out and, like all the other drivers, hang around by their car and talk to some residents they seem to have met.


Taxi Station, Reception Center, Subotica

Through the fences you can see the camp. Some large white tents standing open. The residents look bored. A few young men sit on playground equipment meant for children. They chat a bit with each other. Probably the Serbian authorities expected more families. Groups of men hang around the tents. Most of the men are wearing branded clothing. A man wearing a Levi’s shirt talks drily through his cell phone. Two men walk out of the camp.

A young man of 22 with a big bunch of black frizzy hair tells us he has been bivouacked in this camp for two years. “I studied medicine in Syria,” he says as he stands between cabs pulling up and down the road. Drops of sweat trickle down his face; despite the heat, he wears a warm, black Nike training jacket. “I gave up everything to study marketing in the Netherlands. Twice I tried to cross the border.” He looks at the cabs parked in front of the camp. “Now I have no money left. So what should I do?” the former student wonders. “I can’t go back to Syria. I lost everything, my high school diploma is not valid in Serbia after so many years. I can’t go to university there again. I can only stay here. In the camp. Where I get food, drink, shelter and food-money. And wait.” But for what? “I’m stuck in the middle of no man’s land.”

A young man from Africa, with dreadlocks and a jacket hanging open, revealing his bare upper body down to his underpants, trots around in front of the camp, chatting with the cab drivers. He appears to be under the influence of drugs. “I’ve been here eight months,” he says. How he got here, what his purpose is and where he wants to go, he doesn’t remember.

On the county road, two immigrants are walking back to the relief camp. They have been to the supermarket: one of them carries a plastic bag filled with two hunks of white bread and a bottle of orangeade. Asked if it is easy to get to Western Europe from the camp, they both respond firmly, “Yes, we know people who can arrange that.” One of them, a man with sallow, tawdry clothes dangling around his lean body – grabs his phone and converts Serbian currency into euros, then replies, “for 1,300 euros he will take you to Austria. After that you have to travel further yourself.” Whether he will? The men laugh. “Of course we want that. But we don’t have that money. We see others trying. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they don’t. Then they have to pay again to try. Until someday it might succeed.”

First steps inside the European Union. Röszke, 2015 (Photo: Flickr.com / Peter Tkac)
First steps inside the European Union. Röszke, 2015 (Photo: Flickr.com / Peter Tkac)


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