Report from Belgrade

Report from Belgrade, 01.04.16

In contrast to the last reports we decided to focus on information and keep it rather to the facts than to the pictures. Also we publish it in English in order to make the information more accessible.

We, that’s a group of people who came from different countries in order to support people on the move in Beograd. Some of us are already here since the very beginning of the Tea Project, others joined over the last weeks. Most of us are staying for 2-3 weeks, only 2 will stay for some longer time. We will explain our structure a little more detailed as follows.

Transit in numbers:
In Belgrade there is a large fluctuation of passengers. The number of people arriving and leaving the city is changing a lot. During the last days we’ve got the impression that more people arrive to the city these days as there are many more people joining the morning and evening tea and lots of people started sleeping in the park. Giving reliable numbers is very difficult as there are various ways that people arrive and no ‚check in point‘ for people to register.  Some might stay in smuggler houses and are never visible to the public, others use a registration paper to sleep in a hostel for a couple of nights, again others just move on directly. We assume that it’s around 100-200 arrivals per day and more or less the same number leaving each day. Some of the people in transit report that they crossed Bulgaria and Macedonia walking by foot and that they intend to continue their way with the service of smugglers. Crossing borders got more and more dangerous. Still: People move! For numbers you can check how many people were caught each day because of “irregular entrance”, published by the Hungarian police, we guess that a high rate of people get caught.

Let’s talk about NGOs:
There are plenty of different NGOs in the city who more or less cooperate in order to provide some basic services to the people passing the city. Aside of international NGOs such as MSF (Mediciens sans Frontieres), Red Cross, UNHCR and Mediciens du Monde there are also local NGOs supporting refugees. They provide (some type of) food (with a lot of packaging), clothing and new shoes (which is great except that they put refugees under general suspicion of selling the donations and don’t let them choose), there is a hot shower and toilets, a free internet café and an info-point with information about the legal situation in Serbia, i.e. the asylum procedure as this is what’s basically left in times of Fortress Europe closing it’s borders not only legally but also militarily.

As a contrast to the work covered by NGOs we shifted our focus to establishing and providing sleeping places by prolonging the contract with a hostel where people can stay without official papers and clean up an abandoned house opening up a “No Border Hostel”. Also we generate and provide independent information over the situation in Hungary, Austria and Germany – as this is what most people ask for and actually make some FRIENDS.

About our group:
Normally, we are around 4-8 activists from different backgrounds, most of us first met here in Belgrade. Some are part of the structure since it’s very beginning, others joined later on. Everyone is coming with different interests, experiences, skills and perspectives but what is unifying “us” is the deliberate decision to interrupt their personal life and dedicate it rather to what is needed for people on the move. Therefore what we’re doing is highly dependent on the people leaving and joining the group covering a variety of activities, such as organizing panel discussions, cleaning abandoned houses in order to provide some dry shelter and connecting what we’re doing to local and international media. We are on the way to get more structured and provide information more accessible to newcomers that are joining our structure. It happens often that the experiences we have on the street and the stories we hear challenge our understanding of humanity or strategies of how to live in this fucked up world. To recover from this, we take care of each other and enjoy the inspiring exchange of ideas that we have in our group.

As well we would like to share with you some things that we’re discussing and doing about at the moment:

– Who to invite to the hostel?
There are more people on the street than our friend’s hostel can possibly host. Generally we disapprove of things like a distribution policy which NGOs use to do a lot. In the end, who are we to decide who is more in need / more vulnerable / more valuable than the other? How can we judge such things as often there’s language barriers in between and personal relations among all of us. So sometimes we would offer a place in the hostel quicker to people we feel attached to. How about that, when the  decision of who to invite is up to the unique individual human interaction that we have with the people we meet. Is that a guideline? Also those young rebellious guys who we offered a place in the hostel lately showed us how one-dimensional our perspective turns out sometimes. Like other teenagers they don’t want to be regarded as children and be treated like adults. So how to handle that?
Most likely, we will continue discussing and learn by doing.

– Tea and Protest
These days we also discussed a lot about how visible our political opinions should be when we are in the park with tea. What are the impacts of having banners with us saying “open borders” or “right to travel”? On the one hand we want to be easily understood as people with a distinct approach to NGOs and we would love to create possibilities of political expression with our friends on the move. On the other hand we have some concerns that we would risk more repression or risk to impose our western leftist language on them. We are currently heading for an exchange with no-border Serbia about their desires and experience with repression.

Getting to know the legal situation in Hungary and its border region:
As most of the passengers are moving on towards Hungary, we see it as one of our main tasks to generate knowledge on the legal situation in Hungary. As all the NGOs in Belgrade stick to the information that is at hand within the official legal frame, i.e. how to apply for asylum in Serbia, almost everyone who’s moving on to Hungary is going without knowing what to expect. Therefore, specific information, such as Hungary officially being in the Dublin Agreement but not taking back more than 12 refugees per day, is highly valuable for passengers we meet on the move. With this information in mind, the danger of giving a fingerprint is less fearing.

Networking Belgrade-Budapest:
Meeting people in the park is making obvious what is in practice for people on the move. The information that we provide could or should rather focus on the situation in Hungary than on the situation in Serbia (as this is already covered by official institutions too). Almost everyone we met so far neither wanted to stay in Serbia nor in Hungary. Through the strong personal contact we are thinking in and supporting the passengers perspectives of moving on until they reach their current destination. Therefore, we consider it important to be informed about what’s going on in Hungary in order to support people with what they actually need: knowledge and perspectives.

As the situation is changing almost every day we consider it very important to connect the work we’re doing to existing refugee support structures in Hungary. Therefore, we met with some activists from Migszol Budapest in order to get an update about the current situation, get contact persons in Hungary to call in case of illness or legal support and make some new friends. So far, the contact is very inspiring as we met people who have been dedicating their free time on refugee struggles for many years now and really know a lot about what’s going on in Hungary and other countries. Still, we also see the differences between our perspectives. The support structure in Hungary is rather aware of people who are actually staying in Hungary for some longer time or eventually intend to seek asylum there. Knowing the numbers from the Hungarian Police Website (see above) and the limited space in the detention centers there, we guess that it’s a lot more people who are actually continuing to Austria without being “seen” by Migszol volunteers.

“No Border – Hostel”
With the awesome energy of self-organized people who don’t ask anyone for permission and just start doing, there’s a new place to sleep now. With brooms, shuffles, basic material, and lots of love activists from Hamburg created some shelter for around 50 people to stay and sleep. There’s already 4 separated rooms, one of them a women’s place. Sanitary facilities and electricity access are in progress. Here are some pictures.

More projects coming soon,
Borders can’t stop our ideas from crossing minds to reality.