Preliminary report from Preševo

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Preševo is a small town in southern Serbia, near the border with Macedonia. It is now the primary transit point through Serbia. Asylum-seekers arriving from Macedonia cross at a village called Miratovac. They are then brought to Preševo, 8km away, where local authorities have set up a « One Stop » registration centre. Dropped by busses at the top of a tall road, people walk down and are directed towards the entrance of the registration centre. The centre itself is rather large, its capacity reportedly having been increased to 1’000 in recent days. Inside the centre, SOS Remar provide soup, coffee and chai, the Serbian Red Cross provides medical services, and the UNHCR is present for monitoring. MSF is also present outside the centre. Other organizations present include the Danish Refugee Council, IOM, and Médecins du Monde. Media and volunteers are not allowed access to the camp, though under specific circumstances some have entered.



While there are a number of large tents inside, the registration centre is not a camp. Those who arrive can rest, or continue on to receive registration papers which allow them to transit through Serbia. Once they have received the papers, they are made to leave the centre, flowing back onto a square where lines of busses are waiting. These busses cost 35 euro per person, and head towards Šid, a town on Serbia’s border with Croatia, but they are not mandatory. Asylum-seekers can then choose the manner by which they seek to continue their travels.



In the daytime yesterday, Preševo was very calm. Few people arrived and those who did were rapidly filtered through the registration centre and could get on busses, a drastic change from the previous days where the road leading to the registration camp was overflowing with people. All those present at the time describe scenes of tension and stress as authorities, organizations and volunteers attempted to manage the situation.




Like in Röszke, volunteers are managing a number of services in Preševo. Filtering in and out by groups, their numbers are regular but always in flux, and coordination is at times difficult. A group of Swedish volunteers left yesterday, while a group of Swiss, some Austrian, and a handful of others including Germans and Americans are present. Many of these volunteers were previously in Röszke, or in Bapska, on the Serbian-Croatian border (near Šid).



The dynamic in Preševo is quite different to Röszke. To begin with, the registration centre is located on the edge of town, near the train station and a police camp. There are a number of houses, as well as small businesses – local restaurants, a café, a grocer, and shops. Dynamics are resultingly complexified by the more limited space (for setting up services, aid, and in terms of general numbers), the greater diversity of actors, and the separation of spaces (the registration centre vs. the public street). Also different is the mandatory registration of volunteers at the local youth centre ; though they can continue to pursue their own activities, they are put in touch with the local coordinator who interacts with them regularly.



As evening came, the atmosphere in Preševo was calm. While some took the opportunity to relax and have a laugh, other volunteers reflected on where they might be most needed, and what services they could implement. These included the setting up of a table with hot tea, a charging area where people could plug their phones, and the distribution of food, water, and blankets, as well as purchasing bus tickets for those who are unable to pay.



Around 00h, the number of arrivals increased, with a steady flow into today making a total of roughly 4’000 arrivals in the 24 hours preceding this post. Volunteers continued to provide support throughout the night, communicating with police and the UNHCR to provide aid to those struggling with weather, fatigue, and illness. Some minor tensions arose due to confused coordination of activities and the diversity of actors. Similarly, tensions arose between volunteers and private taxis, relating to concerns over the legal repercussions for asylum-seekers who are convinced to take a cab before being registered in the centre. It is unclear where the taxis offer to bring people ; we were told, amongst other things, that they offer to bring them to a nearby town where registration could be quicker, that they offer to bring them to Belgrade, and that they offer to bring them directly to Šid. Transporting asylum-seekers before registration risks them being caught and sent back to Preševo, making them lose both time and important financial ressources, at the least. The economic dynamics surrounding such activities are particularly complex in Preševo, located in a part of Serbia facing significant economic challenges of its own.

Many thousands are expected to arrive tonight.