For the past few months, many exhausted travelers without papers have stopped in the Belgrade parks, on their way through Serbia. During the day, especially the two parks close to the bus station have been the place where tens and even hundreds of migrants waited to continue their journey, and even during the night several dozens slept on the cold grounds, often uncovered and resting just on some pieces of old cardboard.
The iniciative “chai not borders” provided a space for a gathering around some tea and sometimes biscuits every Saturday afternoon. Many citizens of Belgrade approached us, brought tea, biscuits, clothes, shoes and other useful things, many got involved and the massive response made the two months of our continuing solidarity possible. We usually gave out several hundred tea cups and had really nice interactions in the park.
However, on Saturday the 23rd of May, we arrived to the park, only to notice that there were almost no migrants in the park. In the three hours we stayed there, we gave out only around 30 cups of tea. What happened? Where did the migrants disappear?
Soon we realised migrants did not disappear – they might be less, but they were much more mobile all the time. We were told that a police patrol has been circulating almost constantly around the parks for the past several days, telling people that “they should leave the park”. People were either directed to “go to the police station, seek asylum, and then go to the center for asylum seeker” (ignoring the fact that at the police station, people are often denied the right to seek asylum – confirmed also in a recent Human Rights Watch report: http://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/15/serbia-police-abusing-migrants-asylum-seekers), or to simply “leave the country”. The bottom line is that the migrants should leave the park in order “no to be so visible”. The police patrols were racially targetting everyone who “looked” like a migrant, approaching them and told them to leave. Even people who already had a paper saying that they have sought asylum – a paper, which gives people 72 hours time to get to a center for asylum centers and so for these 72 hours legalised their status and does not give the police any legal ground to chase them away from the park – were told to leave the park.
The next Saturday – on Saturday the 30th of May – we continued with our action of distributing tea. We were mobile this time: we cooked the tea in one place, and then walked across all the parks, and all the “hidden places” to which the police has confined the migrants in order to “put them out of view” of the public. Police violence has generally increased. We were given an admission by the police officer that they have “turned away 200 people from the police station, including families and sick children” on Saturday the 30th of May and heard reports that same day of people being beaten by the police in the police station, as they tried to sought asylum. Two days later, on Monday the 1st of June, we heard reports of passers by that migrants were shouted at, treated with humiliation and forced to sit and wait for their papers awake – every time a tired migrant would doze off or fall asleep, a police officer would shout at them and wake them up.
While the humanitarian need became less visible in the last two weeks – no longer we see bare-foot children, and their tired mothers, sitting in the park, worried and blistered men, resting in the park – it is clear that the situation was not “resolved”. The same humanitarian need exists, but it is hidden away from public places, forced to hide away, or face police repression on a larger scale than ever.
This is why we appeal to the people living in Belgrade not to stop their solidarity with migrants when they are no longer physically present, and when their humanitarian need is no longer so visible. In fact, the humanitarian need was but the tip of the iceberg of structural violence, exclusion, marginalisation and illegalisation that they have endured. It needs to be stressed that a great percentage of refugees from war conflict remains in the countries that immediately neighbour the country at war. Thus most Syrian refugees never make it passed Turkey and most Afghan refugees are currently in Iran and Pakistan. The reason for this is, among others, the border regime which makes the journey towards Europe costly (thereby excluding the lower classes), dangerous (thereby excluding those who do not have an able body), and sometimes deadly (many people who set out to leave the neighbouring country to which they have first fled, die before they reach EU).
We therefore appeal to all citizens of Belgrade, who showed solidarity with the migrants in the park, by bringing clothes, food, tea and other useful items, to continue to put their critical eye on the subject. The migrants have not just “disappeared” – they have been chased away and persecuted by police repression. This repression is not permissible and needs to be denounced, criticised and fought against. We need to keep in mind that the police repression is one of the tools that the border regime is using to keep itself in place.
Stop police repression – destroy all borders – fight the border regime – freedom of movement for all – no one is free, until all are free – passports for all, or no passports at all!