Refugee Notes, October 2015: Winter is Coming


Mid October 2015 the circumstances surrounding the trail of refugees through Serbia and Croatia drastically changed. Hungarians, who for several weeks somehow cooperated with Croatia by letting thousands of refuges enter Hungary from Croatia closed the border. One month earlier Hungary closed its border with Serbia. The only corridor remaining led through Slovenia. Its government decided to let only 2500 refugees enter the country every day. Meanwhile up to 7500 refugees continued to enter Croatia from Serbia every day. Weather condition deteriorated at the same time. The hot summer-like September was replaced by cold, rainy and muddy October. Here are my Facebook observations noted on the days when it seemed that what until recently looked more like orderly handling of refugees turned into a nightmare:

Monday, 19th October, 2015

Circumstances surrounding the Syrian refugees are getting worse. Hungary closed its border with Croatia. Slovenia, the only corridor left lets only 2500 refugees enter Slovenia daily, at the time when at least twice as many refugees enter Croatia from Serbia. Refugees are stranded in both, Serbia and Croatia, and the bad weather makes everything worse. International media is reporting about the situation with many dramatic pictures and videos. I have shared some of those today on my FB page. EU should not leave it to Croatia and Serbia “to do their best” because if Slovenia continues to allow only a handful of refugees into Slovenia every day the situation will become more dramatic by each new day as the weather conditions will deteriorate. By now EU should have already had a detailed plan in place how to evenly place the incoming refugees in all its member countries. It is sad that the winter is coming and that EU does not seem to have a plan in place. Instead political games are being played within EU and between its countries in a naive or not so naive hope that the problem would resolve itself, or that some countries would end up taking the full load upon themselves. Meanwhile refugees are getting stranded, hungry, anxious, sick. At the same time cynics are growing in number and in their spite. Let us pray for a dignifying resolution of the current situation. Refugees are people, not cattle to be rounded up and kept herded behind metal fences.

Tuesday, 20th October, 2015

Both, Serbia and Croatia have treated the refugees well and have done their best to help them on their way to the West Europe. At this time when challenges are increasing due to bad weather and Slovenia-imposed limitations Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia should together look for ways to help each other handle the situation, and discourage the sensation and gossip seeking media from exploiting the situation in order to fuel bad feelings between the countries in the region. Likewise, all of those countries should discourage the political abuse of the situation. And also, since the crisis is overwhelming everyone who desires to help should be allowed to help without too much red-tape bureaucracy. I witnessed in Serbia one month ago that people of good will and organizations willing to help could easily self-organize and be there where the help is needed the most in no time and with no bureaucracy obstructing the aid workers and volunteers. It should not be allowed that at any location where the refugees are gathered they are without any food for as long as one day or longer.

Wednesday, 21st October, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 8.35.25 AMThere is no question in my mind that what is happening at this moment between Croatia and Slovenia is a humanitarian crisis of a major proportion, moving fast to become a humanitarian disaster. Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria are EU countries, and therefore it is a catastrophe for EU too, because we do not seem to hear the voice of EU making any decent statement concerning what ought to be done at this time when winter is fast approaching. Yes, I have listed Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria, because all four of them are EU countries. Hungary decided for the second time to seal its borders (first time with Serbia), this time with Croatia. For a month Croatia has been processing the refugees more or less smoothly, until Slovenia decided to allow modest numbers of refugees to cross the border on a daily basis, blaming that the limit has been set by Austria; while Austria innocently replying that this was not so. It seems that everyone blames someone else. Meanwhile EU is silent, as if it has nothing to do with the fast developing refugee disaster at the border between Croatia and Slovenia. EU this is the moment when it is being shown what you are made of. If EU does not get its acts together soon we will be seeing, in the heart of Europe, the same scenes that we witnessed along the Italian and Greek coasts – dead refugees, among them children as the first victims. Winter is coming.

Thursday, 22nd October, 2015

Why now? This Sunday EU is calling a mini-summit on refugee crisis which the countries forming the refugee corridor will attend. Two questions are coming to my mind right now: 1) Why not sooner? Anyone observing the unveiling of the refugee crisis in Europe knew long ago that it was only a matter of time when the crisis would turn into a nightmare; and 2) Why only the countries along the refugee path and not the overall EU summit with all its members? This surely cannot be treated is the internal challenge relevant only to the countries on the refugees’ way. It will be interesting to watch the outcome. Will it be just another occasion for the hot-potatoes-throwing? Or will it bring about some honest breakthrough? One thing is clear to me: this might turn into much more daring situation for the entire EU than a recent near-financial-collapse of Greece. These are the days that will demonstrate what substance the EU is made of.

If you heart is moved by the plight of refugees you are like me looking for multiple sources of information about the latest developments. As most of you know, over the past two to three days what was until recently a humanitarian challenge grew into a humanitarian nightmare, with serious tragedies looming just behind the corner should EU continue to apply the slow-motion approaches to resolving the growing refugee crisis. At this moment I would like to focus on another kind of crisis that is surfacing aggressively as the refugee crisis is beginning to look more like a humanitarian tragedy. I am talking about a serious moral crisis, and lack of empathy that are at this time becoming very visible at different levels.

At one level we are witnessing the irresponsible and immature behavior of the governments that are even proud of their hardline stance towards the refugees, or are simply ignoring the plight of refugees believing that the refugee crisis is not their problem to worry about. Those governments would rather see their neighboring countries flooded with refugees than take a share in helping to defuse the situation. It is sad to see that some of those countries, which are EU countries too, would rather selfishly fence themselves against their EU neighbors than share a load of responsibility.

Another level of moral decadence that concerns me even more at this time is manifest in the selective, twisted and hype media reporting. Notice how much of the reporting is aimed at creating a state of fear and panic; in many cases presented with deliberate exaggerations. For example, such media would dwell on the littering created along the trails of the refugees and the incidents caused by some frustrated refugees; choosing always the photos that would suggest that refugees are rough and uncivilized people. Those media like to put into the minds of people fear that those refugees who are now “so freely” walking into Europe will tomorrow terrorize the very people and nations that are receiving them into their midst. Tragically, in the time of crisis media often tends to add fuel to the fire rather than join those who are genuinely looking for solution.

However, the group loosing its moral compass the most is made of people who are aggressively voicing their opposition to any from of welcoming reception of refugees. Unfortunately, many among them are declared Christians. Some of them believe that their opposition to the current inflow of refugees is grounded in the Christian or Biblical values. One does not need to go very far to hear their screaming. Just visit the comment sections below any article or media reporting on the refugee situation, or look for any compassionate reporting on the Facebook pages intent at creating the awareness, and you will find them there – spamming, insulting, cursing, mocking, or in many other explicit ways expressing their lack of respect for the suffering refugees.

The good news in all of it is that there are people, still many of them, who are living up to the challenge. They are to be found there where various forms of help are organized and administered to refugees in all countries on the refugee trail.

Wednesday, 28th October, 2015


Only a few weeks ago, while volunteering in Serbia, my team witnessed that an orderly movement of refugees was possible with the assistance of self or community organized groups of volunteers. They are able to assist without acting in the intimidating manners.

Refugees were generously supplied with food, clothes and other necessities without a need for patronizing approval of the “above” coordinating entities. When our team was at the Serbian border with Croatia, at any time there were other two or three groups of volunteers there too. We would easily synchronize our work in such a way so as to act as one team, with no confusion or competition between our groups. I could even say that our assessment was that whatever little police presence we saw, its was there to assist with whatever information we needed. Their presence was not intimidating.

On the night we visited the barricaded Hungarian border near Horgos. A group of Serbian government representatives visited the refugee camp to asses the situation. A large group of refugees immediately surrounded the government representatives. They gathered around not to cause a problem or to protest, but to express their gratitude. They chanted, “Thank you, Serbia!”

This is my point. When refugees are treated with dignity, compassion and empathy they will respond with dignity. I have heard similar accounts of dignifying treatment from my Croatian friends engaged in the refugee volunteerism too.

Today in Slovenia, only a few weeks later, we are witnessing a growing militarization of the Slovenian police assigned to “help” the refugees. We are seeing photos and videos of large groups of refugees herded like cattle, fenced at all sides by metal fences and heavily equipped police force, and the military brand of vehicles. We are also hearing about the obstruction of the work of volunteers, and the cases of inhumane treatment of refugees. At the same time we hear of the frustrating acts of refugees who are loosing their patience, after having spent long periods of time enduring cold and hunger.

Thursday, 29th October, 2015.

DSCN3764The observation I shared yesterday was not intended to say that there are no volunteers in Slovenia who are willing to help. I am aware that in Slovenia, like in Croatia and Serbia, many are more than eager to help make the life of refugees more bearable as they are moving forward facing cold and hunger. I also know that Slovenia is a small country and that it has been overwhelming to deal with at least 85000 refugees that have passed through Slovenia in a very short time recently. This is what I was saying: when we treat refugees with dignity, as human beings like us, who are at this time in a great need of compassion and empathy, that they too respond with kindness and appreciation. And treating them with dignity would include allowing them more freedom in their movement as they are eager to move forward; allowing volunteers who are eager to bring and distribute food, hygienic items, clothes, shoes, blankets serve without unnecessary obstruction and red tape; and letting medical teams help too. It also means downsizing the police presence to only what is essential and letting them serve without special combat gears. In other words, if in our countries we treat refugees with dignity and without intimidation we will soon see that they are kind and thankful people. Someone said: “Loved people, love people!” At least this was our experience in September.

Friday, 30th October, 2015

If this is true it is very shameful. Do not tell me that we who are not happy with the situation do not see the whole picture. This video says enough, and it is not the only one. There are many volunteers and volunteering organizations which are more than eager to help and it is completely inhumane if the only way for them to help is by throwing food over the fence. This does look more like some kind of concentration camp or a prison, rather than a place designed to help refugees. To keep people for two days without food, and without providing blankets at this time of the year is disgusting. I hope the circumstances have changed for better since this video was released a couple of days ago. If the Slovenian government, or any other government along the refugee trail, are not able or willing to help in some decent and dignifying ways, let the humanitarian agencies and people of good will do the work you (governments) are not willing or able to do. Also, intimidating militarization of the refugee situation in Europe is not the answer.

Today they are walking, Syrians, Iraqis. who guarantees that tomorrow you and me we will not be on some trail, walking either in hope for some safety or forced by someone’s design. The way the things are moving in the world at this time prove that we have learned nothing from the atrocities of the last century, and that our century may outdo the last in crime, atrocities and evil. We are living in the world that is ripe for massive conflicts and birth of new forms of Orwellian dictatorships.

Who guarantees that you and I will be able to live in our little comfort zones much longer, safe and untouched by the ever growing mechanisms of evil? If we ignore the plight of those who are desperately needing our help today, tomorrow we will be ignored. If today we approve of people groups being fenced and intimidated, without daring to say or do anything, tomorrow we will be intimidated and dehumanized.

We who believe to know the Lord are not fighting with guns or any other use of force. Our force ought to be practically demonstrated compassion, empathy, love and charity towards those who are suffering today, without allowing ourselves to have our views formed by the political agendas and correctness of the day. Jesus said plain and clear: “Whatever you did for the least of those you did it for me!” To follow Jesus is a radical thing, not cosmetically designed religion.

Saturday, October 31st, 2015.

In the past seven weeks over 300000 refugees have entered Croatia. In the past couple of weeks close to 100000 have entered Slovenia.

About Tihomir Kukolja

Tihomir Kukolja, born in Pozega, Croatia. Studied, lived and worked in Yugoslavia, Croatia, United Kingdom, Australia and the US. Educated in theology, communications, and radio journalism. Worked as a church pastor, media professional, radio producer and presenter, journalist, religious liberty activist, and reconciliation and leadership development activist. Lives in Houston TX, USA. Until recently served as the Executive Director, Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation (Forum), and Director of Renewing Our Minds (ROM) initiative. Loves photography, blogging and social media.
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1 Response to Refugee Notes, October 2015: Winter is Coming

  1. God is in the midst of this tide of humanity and we pray they will find hope in Him.


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