Working on the Balkan Route: “I Can Still Here Croatian Cops Screaming ‘One line!’ in #Opatovac”

States and borders are dividing people. Dividing in them and us. When do we finally get rid of these tools of suffering and oppression? On December 17 I will travel to Lesvos, Greece, again and will stay there for almost a month. It seems a long time ago that I started working with refugees on the Balkan route, but actually its not. A little more than two years have past after I drove to Slovenia. A good friend wrote me in September 2015 about the situation on the Croatian/Slovenian border and asked me to come and support. A lot has happened since then…

Video by the author of this aricle, Riot Turtle, about the next campaign on Lesvos.

Published by Enough is Enough. Written by Riot Turtle.

Note: Presence Counts is not organizing any of  these events, we are publishing this text for people across the US and Europe to be able to see what is going on and for documentation only.

Riot Turtle About Border Closures: “The EU Member States Don’t Want to be Confronted With Their Deadly Policies”

States and borders are dividing people. Dividing in “them and us”. When do we finally get rid of these tools  of oppression? On December 17 I will travel to Lesvos, Greece, again and will stay there for almost a month. It seems a long time ago that I started working with refugees on the Balkan route, but actually its not. A little more than two years have past after I drove to Slovenia. A good friend wrote me in September 2015 about the situation on the Croatian/Slovenian border and asked me to come and support. A lot has happened since then…

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Image: Slovenian/Croatian border in Bregana, Slovenia on September 19, 2015. Image by @RiotTurtle65

I didn’t think long when Luka (name changed), a Slovenian comrade and good friend, wrote me in September 2015. I was planning to drive to the Netherlands for a few days but I immediately changed my plans and drove to Slovenia the next morning. I first met Luka and we discussed the situation. Luka proposed to document it all and spread it through our independent media channels.

I drove to Bregana at the Slovenian/Croation border and the first thing I saw was a lot of riot cops and military. Helicopters in the air, armoured vehicles, shields, helmets and batons. The full program. A group of people was sitting on the ground on the so-called no man’s land, a small territory between the Slovenian and Croatian border posts. I started to talk with people and asked if I could take some pictures. They agreed and so I started to document the disgusting scenery. A totally militarized border to stop people from seeking refuge.

During the night that followed people again and again asked to let a sick child pass the border. On the Slovenian side of the border was the nearest hospital. But the cops refused to let her pass and in the early morning hours the child died. I wiped a few tears, and got sad and angry at the same time. Borders kill!

The Slovenian ruling class didn’t mind to let these people suffer and refused the necessary treatment of the sick child, but they seemed to be stressed about possible bad publicity after the child died. The image of their state could suffer. A few hours later suddenly coaches parked at the border and Syrian families with children were allowed to pass the border to get into the coaches. All refugees protested, including the ones who were allowed to get to the coaches. The solidarity between all people on this tiny piece of land was inspiring.

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Image: One of the coaches on the Slovenian/Croatian border in September 2015. Image by @RiotTurtle65

Nobody knew where the coaches were bringing these people and together with some other people I decided to follow the coaches. We discussed who would stay at the border  with the people who were still there, to make sure that enough people would stay.

In the beginning it looked like the coaches were only accompanied by one police car, but soon the first of our cars was stopped by state security in a civil cars. Soon the second car was stopped and I decided to take a bit more distance. I managed to follow them a long time but a few kilometers before Maribor I lost them. I circled around but didn’t find the coaches again. A little bit later I heard that the coaches had left Slovenia and crossed a small border post. The coaches were in Austria now and I decided to drive to Austria.

I drove to Heiligenkreuz at the Austrian/Hungarian border and met a few comrades. Thousands of people arrived here and it was a pretty chaotic scene because the Austrian army and cops had surrounded them on a small piece of land. But little by little people were transported to different Austrian cities and to Germany.

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Image: The scenery in Heiligenkreuz, Austria in Septemeber 2015. Image by @RiotTurtle65

During my stay in Heiligenkreuz we (me and some comrades) heard that Hungarian cops started to chase and arrest refugees on the Hungarian side of the border. We mobilized more people and drove to the Hungarian side of the border. We saw that the information that we received was correct and started to act. The Hungarian cops tried to arrest as many refugees as they could. It was the implemenation of a new law of the fascist Orban regime, which allowed the Hungarian state to detain people up to 3 years for illegally entering Hungary. For obvious reasons I can’t write about what kind of actions took place during that night but somehow many people arrived in Austria and were save for the Hungarian cops.

I was able to sleep a bit in the car and a few hours later I drove to Salzburg, Austria. Around the main train station I saw soldiers patrolling with machine guns in their hands. Many people were sitting on the ground at the main train station. Waiting for things to come. All trains to Germany were cancelled. A few kilometers from the main train station German riot cops closed the Austrian/German border, only letting in a certain amount of people per day.

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Image: Monitor at the main train station in Salzburg, Austria in September 2015. All trains to Germany were cancelled. Image by @RiotTurtle65

I drove back home after that, with a head full of images. But soon I was back on the Balkan route. We organized a convoy to Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia about 1 month after I returned to Germany. The Cars of Hope collective was born. The misery on the Balkan route was getting bigger and bigger. More and more European states were sealing-off their borders with military, cops and fences.

The scenery in state-run camps like Opatovac (Croatia), Šentilj and Dobova (Both Slovenia, video below) was similar. People were treated more than just inhuman. They were subject to police violence and terrorized. I can still here Croatian cops screaming “One line!” in Opatovac. Even mother and children were only allowed to walk behind each other in a line. “One Line!” I decided that I was not going to support the scum that created these camps by working there. I documented (which was forbidden) the situation in Opatovac and left again. I drove to Serbia and started to work there on a rest area along the highway from Sid to Belgrade. There we were able to work self-organized. People were allowed to move and we build-up a mobile charging station for smartphones. Smartphones were crucial for many people as they often lost friends or family on their long journey… For me it was important not to get exploited for the goals of state rulers, but to work in a self-organized structure and on eye-level with people. Also when it comes to decsion making.

After that I went many times on the Balkan route with the cars of Hope collective. We worked with Soul Food kitchen for people who were sleeping in the streets and parks of Thessaloniki (Greece), with Soul Welders in Belgrade (Serbia), with No Border Kitchen Lesvos (Greece) and many others.  We also worked a lot in Idomeni (Greece) and organized appartments for many people after the “wild” Idomeni camp was evicted. But we also did a lot of presentations in many German cities to create awareness about the situation of refugees on the Balkan route. Many activists of Cars of Hope also fight deportations in Germany and are involved in demonstrations and other actions for the freedom of movement.

The EU/Turkey deal from March 2016 is a disgusting deal which caused more deaths and  legalized trade with humans. The European Union and its member states are paying the Turkish state billions to keep refugees out of Europe and if people do manage to reach the European Union, the EU member states can deport them back to Turkey. But Erdogan’s authoritarian Turkish state wasn’t enough for many EU member states. An even more down-and-dirty deal was made with Libya. A country where people are put in camps that are even worse than in Europe. The European Union is doing business with a country where refugees are being sold as slaves.

The year 2017 is coming to an end I will travel on the Balkan route again. This time to Lesvos and Athens, this time for almost a month. We still have states and borders, we still have people dying at sea and at inner European borders. I will continue to fight for peoples rights like the freedom of movement and also support people who are seeking refuge as much and as good as I can. It makes no sense that people like me are priviliged and can travel wherever they want to just because I was born in northern Europe. I absolutely didn’t do anything that justifies this kind of privilage in comparison to people that were born somewhere elso on this planet. All people have the right to the freedom of movement.

The continent that colonized large parts of the world, that is making money by selling arms to war zones, that is crushing out peoples basic existence with trade deals that destroy local economies around the globe, has closed its borders. We have to overcome this kind of policies, we have to overcome states and borders. We have to get rid of an economical and political system that is dividing us and that destroys our planet.

On Lesvos we (the Cars of Hope collective) will support the Open The Islands campaign, just like we did in the Vohwinkel district and the university of Wuppertal, Germany. For me personally thats not enough, but its a first step towards a real freedom of movement.

Many people support the work of the Cars of Hope collective on the Balkan route. If you also want to support the work with refugees we do you can join our crowdfunding campaign at (scroll down for English) https://www.leetchi.com/c/soziales-von-cars-of-hope or donate directly by PayPal: carsofhopewtal@gmail.com

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