According to Serbian officials, an increasing number of Indian nationals have attempted to enter the EU illegally in recent months.
One hundred expatriates from India are currently staying at a reception center in the Serbian city of Kikinda, near the borders of Hungary and Romania. All of them have already tried in vain to enter the territory of the European Union (EU).
Due to its proximity to Hungary and Romania, two EU member states, Kikinda has become a crossroads for many expatriates.
“We have 540 beds in this centre, and currently 550 people are housed here. So we have exceeded our capacity. Of these people, 360 come from Bangladesh, and about a hundred come from India” , explains Andreja Marcenko, in charge of the entrance.
According to him, “This is a new trend. Indians have been coming here only for a few months.” The camp, which houses only men, is run by Serbian authorities with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.
The camp has a playground where cricket is played exclusively.
“Abuse” by Police
Harjinder Kumar, 39, hails from the state of Punjab in North India. He arrived in Serbia several months ago and explains that he collected a loan after taking a loan for his mother’s treatment.
“I came to Serbia hoping to join the European Union one day. Once I get there, I’ll pay off all my credits.”
Harjinder Kumar has tried to cross the European border several times in the past, but all his attempts so far have failed. He says he is stuck in Serbia after paying around 2,000 euros to a smuggler. Meanwhile, he cooks and sells Chicken Biryani, a dish made of rice and spices, to other migrants in the camp. “It makes pocket money for me and some friends.”
Although the migrants are housed in the main center building, most Indians are housed in a large white tent built in one corner of the site. However, no official has given any explanation in this regard.
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Jasbir Singh, 27, says he came to Serbia because he could not find a job in India. He says he paid about 12,000 euros to the smugglers.
She is also from Indian Punjab. He has already tried to cross the borders of Hungary, Romania and Croatia. Each time, he was being stopped by the border police or Frontex, the European border protection agency.
Jasbir Singh has also claimed misbehavior with the police. “European police don’t respect us. They even take off our turbans and violently pull our beards during the check. They force us to undress and go back to Serbia despite the severe cold.”
Over the years, many migrants have accused Croatian, Hungarian and Romanian law enforcement agencies of carrying out these violent pushbacks.
Why the Balkan route?
In 2015 and 2016, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly fleeing conflict in the Middle East, passed through Greece, an EU member state, and continued through Bosnia and Serbia to reach countries such as Germany. This migratory route is known as the “Balkan Route”.
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Since 2017, many migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan have used this route to try to enter the European Union. For Indian citizens, Serbia is a destination of choice, as they are exempt from visas.
“Since 2017, they no longer need a visa to come to Serbia for short stays. Indians fly directly to Belgrade. From there they try to enter the EU country”, explains Andreja Marcenko Huh.
Some Indian expatriates are also trying to reach Greece. Earlier this month, police in North Macedonia arrested a group of 16 people as they tried to enter Greek territory.
Others present in Serbia, wanting to enter Croatia from Bosnia, the border between Serbia and Bosnia, is, according to them, easier to cross.
Dozens of Indian nationals live in the Lipa migrant camp near the town of Bihak on the Bosnian border. Many say that they came to Bosnia in the hope of joining the European Union for economic reasons.
“I crossed the EU border last month and entered Croatia twice,” says Vupinder, an Indian expatriate from the Lipa camp. “My attempt failed. Croatian police deported me to Bosnia. On the other hand, I did not give money to smugglers to organize my trip. I use Google Maps to get there myself. If I have a job in India If I had, I would not have come to Bosnia like this.”
Author Arafatul Islam
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