It was past dark when we arrived on the Croatian side of the Serbian border, at Ilača. The eight-hour drive from Vienna with four volunteers from SOS Konvoi, a.k.a. “Der Geheime Kunstsalon” (The Secret Art Salon) provided an opportunity to get to know each other, talk about the experiences from their last convoy to the border area, and discuss some opinions on the refugee crisis.
As I sit writing these lines, I have been welcomed into the very clean and modest home of a middle aged Croatian couple, Martin and Nancy, I have been fed a delicious meal, given fresh sheets and a comfortable sofa to sleep on, and a password for the house wi-fi network. Nancy introduces herself as “Mama” for the volunteers, as many as twenty at a time, who have filled the house since last Wednesday, when the Hungarian border at Röszke closed and refugees were diverted to the nearby border crossing at Tovarnik.
Nancy and Martin are truly heroes in this surreality, in Europe in the year 2015. The volunteers are also heroes, young men and women between 25 and 35, most of them, who have simply organized themselves into loose and flexible groups, filled their cars and driven to make-shift camps to hand out food, clothes, tents, sleeping bags and necessities to whole families, wandering refugees and migrants. The main stream media and news has slowly awakened to cover the plight of the refugees, a tragedy which is getting worse as the weeks pass and winter approaches, while governments and larger NGO’s seem unable (or unwilling) to mobilize and provide a basic infrastructure for effective aid relief.
This is the largest refugee crisis since the second world war, and I find myself here on this border which saw some of the most brutal and savage battles during the Bosnian war just two decades ago. I see the bombed out shells which used to be houses from that time. Osijek, Vukovar, and Brčko are the names of the towns which were in the news then. Today it’s Tovarnik, Opatovič and the nearby villages with open-air make-shift camps doing what they can to provide for the thousands of migrating refugees. It’s worthy of mention that whereas the European Union isn’t able to organize itself and provide some relief to refugees, the volunteers who are providing some relief today can rely on a roof over their heads and warm meals from people like Nancy and Martin. Two people providing some infrastructure of relief where the European Union, so far, has failed.