On the wrong side of the fence | News | DW | 21.10.2015
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On the wrong side of the fence

Thousands of refugees are stranded at the border between Austria and Slovenia. They made it across several European countries but Vienna hesitates to open its doors. Catherine Martens reports from the scene.

The ground is wet. A few children are kicking an empty bottle across the asphalt, their shoes sticky with dirt. A large camp in Sentilj, Slovenian countryside. Hundreds of refugees are stuck here. The Austrian border, just down the road, bars their way.

Abdul Rahman is holding his three-month old son tight. The boy, wearing a pink onesie, looks like a little girl. The 27-year old Iraqi is happy that his child has at least something to wear.

"Last night was so cold, we were afraid that he might not wake up," he says.

The living conditions in the camp are tough, adds Rahman. The tents are not made for cold weather; some of them were flooded during the night.

The men are washing their faces outside, next to the women and children. They use cold water out of a few hoses. Not enough for some 3,000 people.

Abdula Rahman has made it this far with his family, and he is not intimidated. Back in Iraq, he played football professionally in the regional league, he says. That was in a another lifetime. Now, the young father is stranded here, waiting in the cold and wet with thousands of other refugees.

Tension across the borders

"First, Croatian buses took us to the Slovenian border, then we walked across the fields, spending a night in a tiny tent. After that, the buses picked us up again, and we thought we were going to Austria. But it was still Slovenia, only another camp," he says.

The situation between Croatia and Slovenia is tense. A Slovenian police spokesman agrees the circumstances are unsustainable. His department is blaming Croatia, saying that their colleagues are feeding them only small amounts of information.

"All we know is that the refugees are coming. No idea how many. The Croats call us and tell us that the next bus is coming in half an hour. How can we prepare for that?"

Fearing for the children

Suddenly, the refugees are in a flurry, the fences are opening. There is only a small gap, and behind it - Austria. Hundreds of people are shoving towards it, they all want to reach it. Abdul Rahman also pushes his family forward, but then holds back.

"I don't want to go in the crowd, I am afraid for the children, they'll get crushed," he says. The situation close to getting out of hand, a policeman wearing a Slovenian uniform and a mask over his mouth pulls Abdul aside.

"Wait, there is room here on the side," the policeman says.

All of the sudden, Abdul and hundreds of others are on the other side of the camp fence, the Austrian border post ahead. Hauling blankets, his backpack and his baby, he runs for the border. Reaches it.

But he cannot keep going. The Austrian border police is forming up, directing them to another, Austrian camp. Abdul is fighting back tears.

"They told us in Slovenia we could go to Austria, and in Austria they tell us we can go no further. I can't do this anymore."

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