1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

A bridge in no man's land

Nemanja Rujević, Harmica / sgbSeptember 19, 2015

The migrant crisis is playing out in miniature on a bridge between Croatia and Slovenia. There are desperate people and brutal police here, but there is also humanity, Nemanja Rujević writes from Harmica.

Migrants on the Croatia-Slovenia border
Image: Imago/BornaxFilic

The man with the suit and the overcoat buttoned up to his neck doesn't easily fit into the picture of the little bridge that crosses the Sotla River, which forms part of the border between Croatia and Slovenia. Here, in no man's land between a pair of European Union members, hundreds of refugees sit on the asphalt - waiting at the mercy of Slovenian authorities.

The UN refugee agency has provided water, cookies and fruit. The mysterious man in the overcoat runs through the crowd up to the improvised blockade that the Slovenian riot police have built.

"Show a heart! Let the refugees pass!" he said in Croatian with a timid voice. "Angela Merkel is crying. These are people, your brothers and sisters." The Slovenian police are not amused and soon the man in the overcoat is gone.

Tear gas in the Schengen area

Two worlds collide between the Croatian village of Harmica and the Slovenian village of Rigonce: Helpful Croats who bring the new arrivals here in private cars - and hundreds of determined Slovenians, intent on sealing the Schengen border.

Migrant shows red eye
Image: DW/N. Rujević

That's something Abdel Karim experienced personally. His red eye bears witness to the tumult of the night before, when police officers used tear gas to prevent the crowd from breaking crossing the border. He has hardly any voice left.

"We just said, 'open the border, help people, children and women,' but they won't help us. Why?" Like everyone here, the young Iraqi had hoped never again to experience the violence he knows from home.

"In Iraq, I was not a free man," Karim said. "I want to go to Sweden."

He's finally persuaded to be treated in an ambulance. Paramedic Mario Drasic, not without pride, said the Croatian Red Cross has everything under control.

But for Slovenia he has no words of praise: "It was an ugly picture of a European and civilized country, if you can call Slovenia at all civilized. These are just people who want to travel, many infants and women."

Most of them, Drasic said, complain only of sore throats and colds, and there is little evidence of them bringing contagious infections.

'Shabaab' have to wait

Still, the situation on the bridge is getting restless. Every few hours a bus arrives on the Slovenian side, and a lucky few refugees may continue the journey further into western Europe. The migrants in the front rows take the megaphone and try to organize queues of people.

"Shabaab," young men, are supposed to stand to the right; families are given priority and are to move to the left. But after exhausting days on the Balkan route, most here no patience for bureaucratic procedures.

People scream at each other, fighting for a position closer to the barricade, while empty bags of chips and plastic bottles crunch beneath their feet. A father lifts up a stuffed Winnie the Pooh doll - as evidence that he is traveling with a child.

Slovenian officials said 1,500 people have entered the country, 200 people were picked up in Harmica on Saturday alone.

Hundreds come across the border. A riot policeman is unable or unwilling to talk about it. Would Slovenia soon open this and other border crossings to everyone? "I don't think so," he mumbled through his visor.

The bridge over the Sotla will probably remain a gathering place for some time. The weather is still warm, and it is possible to spend the night in the open air. Helpful Croatian citizens, like Bassir al Sharif, also keep coming to support the refugees.

Forty-five years ago, the Syrian native immigrated here. He even experienced the bloody war in Yugoslavia. Now his old homeland is falling apart and he has heard that his relatives are on the run.

"I want to help, because people say that Croatia ..." he lacks the words to describe his feelings about the willingness to help he's experienced in Croatia. "I'm touched. Thanks," is all he can manage before the tears start to stream down his face.