Along the Croatia border
By Antonio Bronic
Two months ago, I started working on a story about Croatia’s border police preparing for the country’s EU accession and trying to prevent illegal migrants from crossing into Croatia. For a media person, it is indeed rare to hang out with the police for 24 hours and I was afraid they would be stiff and uncooperative. How wrong I was. They were friendly and nice and, in the end, even took pity on my efforts to capture something dramatic on camera.
I visited three border crossings, two in the south, with Bosnia and Montenegro, and one in the east, with Serbia. I was mostly interested in finding out who were the people trying to cross the border illegally. They were mostly poor and unemployed citizens of Afghanistan, Syria and Albania, who wanted to reach rich European countries through Croatia, in hopes of finding salvation there.
From talking with the police who have been patrolling the borders for years, I found out that some illegal migrants travel for two months from Afghanistan and are really starving, thirsty, exhausted and poorly clad once they are caught. In some cases they surrender voluntarily to the police, just to get some food. Those who are captured are returned to the country from which they crossed into Croatia but that often does not stop them from trying again. There have been cases of illegal migrants who have tried to cross the border for ten days in a row. One of the most interesting and amusing stories I heard while hanging out with the border patrol was that once illegal migrants mistakenly entered a police van, thinking it was their arranged transport that would take them to another country.
I was just as unfortunate.
During the ten days I spent there I did not manage to photograph a single illegal migrant in action. Just a day before my arrival on the border crossing with Serbia, one Afghan man was captured. One day after my departure, of course, the police seized nine Syrians and two Albanians who had been hiding in a nearby village and waiting for a bus to their next destination. Abandoned houses in local villages are often used as a temporary shelter in which the migrants change their clothes or take a nap, always in a hurry, and often leave their old clothes scattered around the fields.
For the police, it is certainly the most difficult to arrest mothers with small children, and such cases are unfortunately not rare, they said.
The crossings I visited were in sparsely populated ares, near villages or towns with only a handful of residents, all of them known to the police. Every new face was therefore easily registered and observed with suspicion, which I was able to feel upon myself. Because my license plates were not from the area, local police grew suspicious of me as soon as I came to a place and immediately had me checked by radio.