The Balkan Nights
Šentilj, Slovenia – October 29, 2015: Refugees and asylum seekers await in disbelief to cross into Austria after being stranded for a whole day in a buffer zone between Slovenia and Austria. No humanitarian support, food or medical relief was provided on a patch of land between the countries, barred by a fence and protected by police, where some of the refugees and asylum seekers waited to cross into Austria.
The Balkan Nights is a story about fatigue, uncertainty, hope of refugees and migrants making their way to their dream country via Balkans and situation of the locals – their efforts to help intersected by their suspicion, discomfort and fear of insecurity as the war ravaged this same lands less than two decades ago.
The Balkan route begins at the Macedonian border with Greece on a train station of Gevgelia and proceeds onwards through registration centers in Serbia, crosses the Croatian landscape to Slovenia, where refugees and migrants escorted by police, rushed to enter Austria only to secure their dreams of peaceful tomorrow before the policies of open borders change and the route ultimately closes.
Countries of ex Yugoslavia were mainly underprepared for exodus on such scale. Refugees and migrants struggling to get on the bus, losing their family members in a crowds of thousands of people on a wast fields in the middle of the night, sleeping in the ponds in front of overcrowded registration centers. This and similar conditions made the Balkan Nights a crisis often resembling the Biblical Exodus.
More than a million of refugees fled their homes in 2015.
Confined by a fence and barred by the Slovenian police and soldiers, a small patch of grass field was established as a buffer zone between Slovenia and Austria during October 2015.
At the peak of the migration crisis in Slovenia, at the end of October, hundreds were waiting in line for their chance to cross from the field to the Austrian refugee registration centre, before the so-called Balkan migration route closes and open border policies change.
As more than 100.000 refugees and asylum seekers crossed into Slovenia in a month, the area which was planned to serve as a controlled and efficient passage for those trying to cross further into Austria, soon turned into an overcrowded limbo where they were stranded for up to 36 hours.
Neither of the countries had jurisdiction over the area where refugees and asylum seekers were lining up in a crowd for a day, many even longer – they were deprived any access to water, food, medical or humanitarian support. Lined up for so long without any information when the gates to the Austrian refugee registration camp would open, some reached the verge of sanity.
During the night, crowds were dense enough to block the light of flood lights to reach the ground level. From time to time the flood lights set up by the Austrian police briefly illuminated faces of refugees, who either stood up to stretch their muscles, those who protested in frustration against the long wait or were just sleeping on the ground exhausted from lining up.
There was no segregation among nationalities in the crowd – only forsaken people who fled their countries, stripped to a mere anger, disappointment, frustration, confusion and disbelief as a common denominator. The only things they could share at that moments.