Preševo: But nothing ever changes

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We expected some problems after the closure of the Hungarian border, but no one knew exactly where they would occur. After Saturday morning’s 33 busses held at Šid, on the Serbian-Croatian border, reports on the ground continued to indicate that Serbia would find itself in a jam, with an uncontrolled flow of arrivals and restricted flow of departures.

On Sunday night, the blocks to the north created chaos in Serbian border areas. Volunteers in Šid have called out for help, as thousands waited in fields in deplorable conditions. In Preševo, the situation was chaotic, but controlled. The line into the registration centre expanded rapidly, and by the middle of the night it was about 300 metres long. People waited patiently or began to sleep in the streets, locals came to donate clothes and food or sold services to those waiting, UNHCR collaborated with volunteers to distribute blankets and identify EVRs (Extremely Vulnerable Refugees), volunteers distributed tea, warm food, and provided information to asylum-seekers, and medics from Humedica responded to hundreds of medical cases.


By mid-day on Monday, the situation had cleared as the processing centre continued to operate, but many were frustrated and angered by the lack of protection from the cold and one very, very long line that lasted throughout the night.

It’s been calm since then, with almost no line at all and re-opened borders to the north. So long as processing continues at a rapid pace, the borders stay open, and services can continue to be provided (the Health deparment  on Tuesday told volunteers they could no longer serve cooked food at the exit of the registration centre), things will be smooth.

Preševo for now has volunteers, but the regular stream of departures and uncertain political climate means moments of real crisis can come at anytime. The situation in the north is more precarious, as a small group of volunteers manage large population movements with, according to what we hear and in contrast to the coordination currently practiced in Preševo, very little support.

With a mere semi-closure of border having created as significant a backlog in only 24 hours, the implications of future policy decisions at the EU level, and in talks with Turkey, are significant. Indeed, the lack of a humanitarian corridor ensuring not only passage, but safe and efficient transportation through the Balkans region (and from the countries of entry into the EU, notably Greece), is of primary concern. In the midst of all this, a seriously annoying but unintentional reference is gnawing at everyone’s mind: winter is coming.