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The Slovenian town of Dobova has become a hub for refugees

The Slovenian town Dobova, where trains arrive from Croatia and leave for Austria, has become a hub on the migrant route. Tense relationships prevail in the migrant centers, Nemanja Rujević reports.

It's a standard question: What is the biggest problem for helpers at the reception centers in Dobova? Perhaps not enough food, impatient migrants, or police bureaucracy? Yet Simona Potocar does not give a standard answer: "It is actually the citizens who want to help; who think they can simply stop by with donations and distribute them to the refugees. They have no idea of the battles that break out when two thousand people are waiting for only a hundred pieces of chocolate."

No, everything here requires order, as the mass of people is just too immense.

The young helpers - wearing orange vests, rubber gloves and mouth protectors - work and behave like professionals, although they are only volunteers on-the-move for the Slovenian aid organization Adra. "At first we tried to give everyone enough to eat. If they stay here longer, then also clothes," Potocar said. Behind her, packs of water were piled up - the small EU country has been using food from the state emergency reserve for the past few days. Before this, Potocar explains, the refugees were just transferred to aid organizations.

Tents, trash and smoke

The usually sleepy town of Dobova on the Slovenian-Croatian border has become a leg of the Balkan route, ever since Hungary blocked off its border with Croatia, sending the flux of refugees in a new direction. Especially since this Tuesday, when Slovenia unexpectedly approved train transport from eastern Croatia. Smiling and waving, migrants pressed themselves against the windows of one incoming train. The hope is to register quickly in Slovenia and board a train again at the Dobova station - this time towards Austria.

Armed guards oversee the migrant center

Armed guards oversee the migrant center

Some though would be required to take a long stopover in the camps of Dobova. A run-down building next to the train station was quickly repurposed into an accommodation center. Trash left behind by migrants covers almost every millimeter of the property.

Small tents are scattered here and there, dark smoke rising where migrants have lighted bonfires. A group of young men press themselves closely together, raising their smartphones in the air - the free wifi works in this one spot. Two children playing with a broken umbrella offer a smile for a camera. One feels reminded of Benigni's "Life is Beautiful," - many children do not view the precarious situation around them as real.

The presence of dozens of police guards and a few soldiers - the Slovenian government has recently called up the army - reminds one however that the mood can turn at any time. On Wednesday, reports of arguments came out of another camp in Dobova. A video that circulated on the Internet showed migrants throwing rocks at wardens behind shields. Many newcomers do not understand why Slovenia insisted on registering them, delaying their journey. Some of them drew a dramatic comparison: the Slovenian accommodation centers were described on Facebook as similar to Guantanamo or a concentration camp.

Train alarm

A train with refugees arrives in Dobova

A train with refugees arrives in Dobova

The people are driven by one desire - to travel farther. At the camp by the Dobova train station migrants are set in motion as rumors spread that a train to the Austrian border was ready for them. They frantically grabbed their backpacks and called their children. False alarm.

But soon they will be able to continue their journey to "Germany." "The trains are mostly running up to the border town Sentilj," a train employee informed. While we were speaking with each other, news came that Austria wanted also to build a border fence and that the dispute between the Alpine countries and Bavaria was taking on a harsher tone.

Nobody here knows whether regular train transportation will continue for migrants between Croatia and Slovenia and then further on to Austria. "That would makes things much simpler," said Simona Potocar, "for the government as well as for this town and all of the volunteers who would then no longer have to stand ready in the cold day and night." The young helper herself is here 16 hours a day, with a telephone by her ear rushing here and there between the supply room and the cafeteria. Every now and again she has a spoon of her stew that has long since gone cold. And then her phone rings again.

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