How my Balkans trip came to an end [2]

How my Balkans trip came to an end [2]

How I got stuck with refugees at the Serbian-Hungarian border

I came home to Prague yesterday after 10 pm after having travelled in the Balkans for 5 weeks. I travelled in Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, ending the trip in Belgrade, Serbia.

The journey from Belgrade to Prague took 24 hours instead of 18, I took 5 trains and a taxi instead of just 3 trains and it cost just 6 euros more (for the taxi).

I boarded the train in Belgrade perhaps 30 minutes before departure. As usual I did not have a seat reservation. There were about 100 refugees headed for Budapest, mainly from Syria, some Serbians travelling within Serbia and a handful of other foreigners and Serbians travelling to Hungary. I had to change the seat because my seat was reserved by a guy from Syria. Luckily there were a few free seats. The train departed on time, at 9.48 pm.

Everything was fine until we reached Subotica, the Serbian border station. We reached the town with only a 10-minute delay shortly before 2 am. The border police officers entered the train and seeing the refugees they started asking them for passports which they did not have. The police tried to make the people get off the train multiple times, but without success. They shouted: “Go out”. “You must go out.” “Final station.” “Passport.” But the people resisted by not moving and not speaking either. After about an hour of trying, getting on and off the train, shouting, few people exiting the train and coming back on board, a translator came and that is when the dialogue between the parties started, but again without success. The situation reached a deadlock. Neither party was giving up. The Serbian police were resolved not to let the train continue the journey, claiming it would be illegal and the refugees were resolved not to get off. And at around 5 o’clock nothing was happening. I was told that it was the first time it had happened. It was the first time when the refugees had been sold tickets from Belgrade to Budapest. The person must have known what would happen. It just doesn’t make sense.

After waiting patiently for more than three hours and being told that nothing would happen until at least after 8 o’clock I decided to find out about alternative transport to Hungary. There were no local trains. There was an option to take a taxi to Kelebia, the border station in Hungary. And this is what I did with a couple of other travellers who did not want to wait for the train to continue the journey. And it was the right decision. As it turns out the train never left for Hungary. Read more at the bottom.

We took the taxi, paid around 35 euros and came to Kelebia shortly after 6 am. A train to Budapest departed at 6.45. As if it all were not enough, 20 minutes into the journey the engine of the train broke down. I was only laughing prompted by the laughter of a Serbian woman who just could not believe this was happening. It reminded me of my travels in Africa. After about an hour of being stuck there, the train continued the journey to Budapest. I arrived at around eleven.

I had a ticket to Vienna for a train which I had missed. I went to the customer service hoping to get an approval to board a different train something that I had also done three years before when travelling from Sarajevo. Without any problems I got the approval and had about hour and a half to kill before the train to Vienna departed. Actually, there were no direct trains to Vienna, despite the information on the website of Hungarian railways stated that they had resumed running trains to Western Europe (obviously only via Slovakia and the Czech Republic). The train went to Hegyeshalom, the border station where we had to change to a rail-jet train bound for Vienna. This was supposedly done so that the refugees could not get across the border. There were two boys, or should I say young men from Afghanistan travelling with me in the compartment.

Once we reached Hegyeshalom we changed the trains. But so did the refugees. So I did not understand the silly exercise of changing trains. I was travelling in the first class of the Austrian rail-jet train as nobody cared. Nice. I arrived in Vienna before four o’clock. Now the train which I had a ticket for was long gone, so again I needed to get a confirmation to board a different train which I managed. Again I had more than an hour to kill before I finally got on the train to Prague.

Read more in the Slovak news about the train stuck in Subotica:
http://www.sme.sk/…/madarske-zeleznice-nevpustili-zo-srbska…

There was a British journalist on board of the Belgrade – Budapest train with me who tweeted about the situation, if you are interested, read it here:
https://twitter.com/connellyandrew

Nothing happened until 7.45. Then a bus took refugees to the bus station in Subotica and from there they took a bus to Horgos, still in Serbia, from where they had to walk along the train track to get to Hungary, supposedly a dangerous walk.

Interestingly enough, I saw a special train being run for refugees going from Vienna to Germany. But in order to get to Hungary they just had to walk.

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