New tactics, same violence: the police in Subotica “transfering” people from the jungles to the camps for asylum seekers

* srpska verzija se nalazi ispod teksta na engleskom

According to the media, people staying in the Subotica’s Ciglana (abandoned brick factory) and the meadows surrounding it, have regularly been “transferred” to the camps for asylum seekers (in Krnjaca and Banja Koviljaca). One such report appeared about the transferal on the 29th of December 2014( and another one appeared about a week later (on the 6th of January 2015:,

The first report informs us that these sorts of actions are planned for every week. The actions seems to reduce the number of people staying in Ciglana. The numbers fluctuate every day, but while in December the rewere frequently well over a hundred people staying there, recently the numbers seem to be lower.

The situation in Subotica for people staying in the Ciglana factory is indeed very difficult. As we have written about elsewhere (LINK:,, that is both due to the extreme cold (especially during the night),strong Panonian winds, and occasional snow – but also because of repeated police violence and repression. Everybody we spoke with had a story to tell of police violence and extortion for money. Police comes every day, uses violence, pepper spray and threats to force people to give whatever money they have (50, 100, or even several hundred euros). While there seems to be a great turn-over of people, some of them stay for longer periods of time. Because of constant police violence, it is very difficult for people to construct decent shelters: they get destroyed regularly by the police. Most people sleep on bare ground,with no sleeping bag and blankets.

The tactic of raiding the jungle and “transfering” people to the centersfor asylum seekers in the rest of the country, has been (as far as weknow) used for the first time this year in the area of Subotica. In theprevious years, police raided the “jungles” and the dwellings in theCiglana factory, mostly to blackmail and extort of money, but also forbigger and more systematic repressive operations, which involvedarresting migrants, putting them in detention center, or deporting themback to Macedonia.

(LINK: This year’s tactic is – at least through the media reports – framed in terms of a “humanitarian” and “philanthropic” need to “save” people from the evils of cold and wind. We find it important to stress the bigger context of these operations and thus show that this year’s tactic of transferal is part of the repressive measures targeted at migrants transiting Serbia.

Firstly, even though the media present these tactics as “transferal”, it is still a police operation, involving threats, violence and repression.The most visible signs of these are burnt tents, torn-apart dwellings and deliberate destruction of any materials in the Ciglana factory that might be used for other people, traveling the same way. Secondly, the people were taken away from the Ciglana factory and transferred to the centers for asylum seekers, without being consulted if this is what they want, or if they want to seek asylum in Serbia. The asylum system is completely dysfunctional and people transiting through Serbia have no wish to stay there. Some of the people arriving to Subotica have been to the camps for asylum seekers, but decided to leave them, get closer to the border and continue their way to the EU. They do not want to stay in Serbia and being close to the border makes their escape easier, than if they are transferred to the camp for asylum seekers in Banja Koviljaca, on the other side of the country. Indeed,most people leave the camps for asylum seekers, to where they were transferred to, in the next few days and return to the “jungles”, with the hope to move across the border as quickly as possible.

We think it is important to be aware of the situation of people transiting through Serbia as a whole, and not only to focus on the narrow space of Subotica’s Ciglana factory. The media try to present us the picture of “poor and vulnerable foreigners” who somehow find themselves “without food, water or shelter” in the cold winter landscape. They leave out the fact that the reason for the no-food problem is that getting to the supermarket is problematic, because the police systematically chases people on their way and tries to steal their money. They leave out the fact that people are stuck in Serbia,because of the highly policed borders and the border regime that excludes them completely from the possibility of traveling “legally”. And the reports also leave out the fact that no problem has been solved with the transferal of people to a warm(ish) camp for asylum seekers:the problem is the border.


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