Czech helper says refugees face desperate situation on Croatia border

Photo: ČTK

As the influx of refugees heading for Western Europe continues, an increasing number of volunteers are trying to help the refugees stranded in camps on Croatia’s borders. There are now reported to be around 100 Czechs working in the area. While some of the teams are supported by humanitarian organisations, such as People in Need, others have come at their own initiative.

Brezice camp,  photo: ČTK
Journalist Petra Pospěchová has just returned from the Brezice camp located on Slovenia’s border with Croatia. I asked her about the situation there and why she and her friends chose this particular destination:

“When we were deciding where to go, we used one of the volunteer maps on the Internet, which shows where help is most urgently needed, where there is the biggest lack of volunteers and supplies. When we were leaving, Brezice was obviously in the biggest trouble, so we chose this place.”

Petra Pospěchová,  photo: Czech TV
Can you describe the situation in the camp? What did it look like? How many people were there?

“Even volunteers, who have been to other camps and even the refugees themselves said that they haven’t experienced something as terrible as in Brezice.

“The camp was meant for two thousand people, but there were six thousand of them, packed on each other. There were many kids and a lot of women. It was really cold and there was only mud on the ground, so it was impossible to sit down anywhere.

“There were a few tents, usually used for families with kids, but not all of them could get in. And the police, when we arrived, was really tough on the people. So honestly, it seemed like a concentration camp.”

Photo: ČTK
There were humanitarian workers present at the camp. Did they have the situation under control?

“The Red Cross was really good with the medical stuff. They more or less covered the medical issues, but that was it. When it came to distribution of food, water and blankets, they completely failed.

“They were waiting for orders from their superiors and they just let people starve for twelve hours. Sometimes we got food to the people only after one and a half day. It was a big disappointment for me.”

Photo: ČTK
So what exactly did you do there? What kind of help did you offer and what was most needed?

“We brought some warm clothes, which our friends collected. We had a full van, such as the other volunteer teams who came from Switzerland or Germany. We also had some money, so we bought blankets repeatedly.

We bought huge amounts of bread during the four days and hectolitres of water. The local Lidl was sold out all the time. Usually we had to negotiate with the police and army to allow us access to the refugees. It required a lot of energy and time, but at the end of the day they would let us in.

So we started to distribute the help, first to the kids and women. Over the course of four days, we served between 20,000 to 30,000 people. So it was a lot of work, and lot of food, and water and blankets, because it was really, really cold.”

Refugees at Rigonce,  photo: ČTK
Are you planning to return there, if possible?

“Definitely. We have very good news that the Brezice and Rigonce camps are closed, because they were really the worst camps. The Slovenian government managed to move the people to another camp with tents, so probably the next journey to the Balkans will not be so tough. But we definitely want to return in November because people will still be coming.”