Afghan father fears forty years of fighting has been forgotten in no man’s land

Hungarian Red Cross staff and volunteers distribute twice a week blankets, baby and hygiene items, and water, to the hundreds of migrants stuck at the border between Hungary and Serbia (Photo: Andreea Anca)

In a makeshift camp in Central Europe, families have been forced to string blankets and old tents across a clump of trees on the no man’s land where Serbia meets Hungary — a patch of open ground between a main road and Hungary’s imposing border fence as it snakes across the country’s south.

Father-of-four Mohammed Hanif had to leave Afghanistan as violence in his region intensified. He has been living with his wife, two daughters and two sons between Serbia and Hungary for several weeks.

“It’s no secret that my country has been torn apart by fighting and war for 40 years — my whole life,” the 38-year-old said. “I wish that in Europe, people would remember that.”

Mohamed Hanif, 38, is from Afganistan. He and his family are now stuck at the border point between Hungary and Serbia (Photo: Andreea Anca/IFRC)

People from Afghanistan are not eligible for the European Union’s (EU) emergency relocation scheme — a programme which sees asylum seekers in need of protection transferred to other EU countries. Only people from Syria, Eritrea, Central African Republic, Seychelles, Dominica, Bahrain, Laos, and Saudi Arabia are now eligible.

“I left Afghanistan because it is not safe — my children are one, six, eight and nine. I can’t have them in danger,” said Hanif.

“All I want is for them to be safe and eventually have an education.”

Each day, up to 30 people are permitted to cross from the ramshackle camp into the Hungarian government’s official transit zone at Roszke — a gated facility where they must wait for the asylum process to begin.

Hungarian Red Cross staff and volunteers distribute twice a week blankets, baby and hygiene items, and water, to the hundreds of migrants, including babies and children, stuck at the border between Hungary and Serbia (Photo: Andreea Anca / IFRC)

For the several hundred other people who remain on the scrub land, life is increasingly tough. Sanitation is poor — there are few toilets and no showers. Recently installed taps are helping to address some of the water needs but it is not enough. Families sleep on the ground and children are left to play among rubbish piles.

Hungarian Red Cross staff and volunteers distribute twice a week blankets, baby and hygiene items, and water, to the hundreds of migrants, including babies and children, stuck at the border between Hungary and Serbia (Photo: Andreea Anca / IFRC)

Krisztina Sasvari, head of the Hungarian Red Cross’s Csongrád branch, is leading its migration response at Hungary’s southern border with Serbia.

The 34-year-old explains that while last 12 months have seen an increase in people seeking asylum in the country, the Red Cross began scaling up its work in relation to migration in 2014 when 23,000 people from Kosovo arrived.

“That was really the beginning for us,” Sasvari said.

“We know the needs and vulnerabilities of people on the move. We’ve been using that experience in the way we have been supporting people in Hungary in the last year.”

Krisztina Sasvari, head of the Hungarian Red Cross branch in the Csongrad county, in front of the Transition Zone in Roszke, where migrants wait for their asylum application to be processed (Photo: Andreea Anca / IFRC)

Sasvari, who recently had a baby boy, said becoming a mum has given her a fresh perspective on the plight people attempting to find safety in Europe.

She said: “I’ve always felt strongly that I wanted to help people who are leaving their countries but since I became a mother, it hits me — especially when I see the mums and children on the border and the conditions they are having to live in at Roszke.”

Hungarian Red Cross staff and volunteers distribute twice a week blankets, baby and hygiene items, and water, to the hundreds of migrants, including babies and children, stuck at the border between Hungary and Serbia (Photo: Andreea Anca / IFRC)

Sasvari leads a team of six volunteers and staff working at both Roszke and Tompa transit zones, providing supplies such as shampoo, soap, baby food, towels, sanitary pads and first aid every week.

The Red Cross of Serbia is also providing support for those stranded on the Serbian side of the border, including a wifi hotspot, hot meals and food parcels.

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