"Tell them I'm OK"
After being removed from the refugee camp, I get a piece of paper with Syrian phone numbers and a special request.
As soon as we cross the police barrier on the Croatian border, we are told by policemen to form two lines. They inform us that a bus will come for the refugees. No one says where the bus is going to take them. Nobody knows how long it is going to take either.
After thirty minutes without news, the group begins to scatter. Musa pulls a package of wet wipes out of his backpack. He uses the tissues, which he got along the way, to clean up his jacket. Each in their own way, they all try to maintain their dignity in this journey. A couple of feet away, a man washes his hair with bottled water. To the front, a mother brushes her daughter's long hair. Ammar, the ex-soldier, points at me and teases:
“Now you're also a dirty person.”
After three days without a shower, we both laugh. He has a swollen foot, which he tries clean with wet wipes before rubbing an ointment. The boys lay the blankets on the grass and play cards to distract themselves.
After three hours, they are getting impatient.
“Why are they doing this to us?” complains Mohamed, who's having a headache.
In the meantime, the Croatian police arrives carrying blue iron fences. They are going to close the border, which now has new refugees approaching from the Serbia side.
Na fronteira com a Croácia, filas e cartas para se distrair
At 1 pm, we are still waiting. Now, an Arabic-speaking volunteer informs that the authorities are going to take the refugees to a camp. She also says they will have to show their documents and go through identification proceedings, which is going to sort migrants according to their countries. Instead of the long-awaited bus, pickup trucks from the police are coming to transport the people. They put families with children in the back. There's no place for everyone. I walk with the boys from the group for 20 minutes and move past ladies offering bread with jam along the way. Standing in front of a bus, Ghazi's family is waiting for the group. Tala runs with arms wide open:
On the bus, Ghazi relays the police orders.
“We're not allowed to smoke or eat before the end of the trip.”
The boys don't know how long they will have to stay outdoors. They fear that they are going to be trapped here, unable to continue their trip.
“If they keep us here, we'll burn this place down and escape.” Musa jokes.
Looking through the windows of the bus, we can see picturesque fields and sunflower plantations. The sun is shining. The world is once again a beautiful and comfortable place. After twenty minutes, we arrive at the Opatovac refugee camp. As we enter the camp, volunteers offer risotto, biscuits, tissues, juice and water.
"Vegetarian food, vegetarian food!" they advertise.
Most of the group prefers the other option, with beef. They are starving, and eat while waiting in line, stacking up donations in their arms. Smilingly, Mohammad and Tala hold the snack packets and the orange juice they got, offering some to their neighbors. As the people enter the camp, police officers ask for families to stay together, sitting in line. It's the first time since we've left Greece that someone asks for identification. Ghazi shows the family's papers. Razan's brother Adham and the young Rama, who has a husband waiting for her in Sweden, introduce themselves as a couple to the police. They believe that having family ties might help them get their permits approved. In a few minutes, all their passports are photocopied and they receive a wrist tag which gives access to the next bus. We are informed that they will be taken to the border with Hungary, and later, to Austria.
After checking my documents, the authorities tell me that I cannot stay with the family, and that I must leave the camp. They say that the press must stay outside. I ask for information about the next destination. Nobody confirms it. A policeman reluctantly writes down on my notepad two possible frontiers where they can reach Hungary. Some say the refugees will be taken there in a few hours, others say it will happen within 48 hours. Before leaving the camp escorted by a police officer, a refugee who waits next to the family hands me a piece of paper with Syrian phone numbers:
“Please, tell them I'm OK.”