According to Serbian officials, a growing number of Indian nationals have attempted to enter the European Union illegally in recent months.
A hundred migrants from India are currently living in a reception center in the Serbian town of Kikinda, near the borders with Hungary and Romania. All of them have already tried, in vain, to enter the territory of the European Union (EU).
Due to its proximity to Hungary and Romania, two EU member countries, Kikinda has become a crossroads for many migrants.
“We have 540 beds in this center, and 550 people are currently accommodated here. We have therefore just exceeded our capacity. Among these people, 360 come from Bangladesh, and about a hundred from India”, explains Andreja Marcenko, in charge of admissions.
According to him, “it’s a new trend. Indians have only been coming here for a few months.” The camp, which houses only men, is run by the Serbian authorities with support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.
The camp has a sports field where cricket is played in particular.
“Mistreated” by the police
Harjinder Kumar, 39, comes from the state of Punjab, in northern India. He arrived in Serbia several months ago and explains that he accumulated debts after taking out loans to pay for his mother’s medical treatment.
“I came to Serbia hoping to join the EU one day. Once I get there, I will pay back all my credits.”
Harjinder Kumar has already tried several times to cross the European border, but all his attempts have so far failed. He says he feels stuck in Serbia after paying nearly 2,000 euros to a smuggler. In the meantime, he cooks and sells Chicken Biryani, a dish made with rice and spices, to other migrants in the camp. “It makes pocket money for me and some friends.”
Although migrants are housed in the main center building, most Indians are housed in a large white tent erected in one corner of the site. No official, however, has provided an explanation on this subject.
To (re)read also: In Germany, fewer Bangladeshis are obtaining asylum
Jasbir Singh, 27, says he came to Serbia because he couldn’t find a job in India. He says he paid nearly 12,000 euros to traffickers.
He too is from Indian Punjab. He has already tried to cross the borders to Hungary, Romania and Croatia. Each time, he ended up being intercepted by the border police or by Frontex, the European border protection agency.
Jasbir Singh also claims to have been mistreated by the police. “The European police don’t respect us. They even take off our turbans during checks and violently pull on our beards. They also force us to undress and walk back to Serbia despite the extreme cold.”
For years, many migrants have accused Croatian, Hungarian and Romanian law enforcement agencies of carrying out these violent pushbacks.
Why the Balkan route?
In 2015 and 2016, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly fleeing conflict in the Middle East, passed through Greece, an EU member state, and continued on through Bosnia and Serbia to reach countries like Germany. This migratory route is known as the “Balkan Route”.
To (re)read also: In Italy, a shoe factory donates 2,500 pairs to migrants in the Balkans
Since 2017, many migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan have taken this same route to try to enter the European Union. For Indian citizens, Serbia is a destination of choice, since they are exempt from visas.
“Since 2017, they no longer need a visa to come to Serbia for short stays. Indians fly directly to Belgrade. From there they try to enter an EU country “, explains Andreja Marcenko.
Some Indian migrants are also seeking to reach Greece. Earlier this month, a group of 16 people were arrested by police in North Macedonia as they tried to enter Greek territory.
Others, present in Serbia, aim to enter Croatia from Bosnia, the border between Serbia and Bosnia being, according to them, easier to cross.
Dozens of Indian nationals live on the Bosnian border in the Lipa migrant camp, near the town of Bihac. Many say they came to Bosnia hoping to join the EU for economic reasons.
“I crossed the EU border and entered Croatia twice in the last month,” says Vupindar, an Indian migrant from Lipa camp. “My attempt failed. The Croatian police deported me to Bosnia. On the other hand, I did not pay money to traffickers to organize my trip. I use Google Maps to get there on my own. If I had a job in India, I wouldn’t have come to Bosnia like this.”
Author: Arafatul Islam