The Balkan Route from Hell: A Personal Account
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
Khan* is a 25 years old journalist from Kabul, Afghanistan who left Greece after being rejected on his asylum claim. He describes some of his journey in the following extract as he travelled from Greece to Italy via Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia to eventually get to his brother in Holland.
"He was reciting phrases from the Quran, flailing his arms around, talking to himself and his eyes looked wild. I think this journey had made him lose his mind."
“When we went on ‘the game’ to try and reach Italy from Bosnia & Herzegovina. Twenty-five people left together and only five made it. We lost people on the way and some were sick or injured in the jungle and we were unable to wait for them. Some were caught by police and deported back to Bihac which is on the Bosnia & Herzegovina - Croatia border.”
Khan tells us how the authorities had mercilessly beaten him and his friends. He talks about having all his belongings – money, clothes, mobile phone and even the shoes on his feet being taken off him by police officers. In other incidents people on the same journey were robbed at knife point by thieves who target these travelling groups. “Sometimes there was no food or water,” he says, “we had no choice but to drink from dirty puddles and streams and eat leaves from trees.”
“Families and children are also on this journey.”
“We are forced into lorries and containers where we can’t breathe.”
“We jump onto running trains or hold onto the bottom of trucks risking our lives, but we have no other options.”
“This journey is ruthless, and you can only look after yourself. Friends leave friends and even brothers are forced to leave brothers behind.”
Khan then described what sounded like a post-apocalyptic movie where survivors wander around looking for other people and shelter. Sometimes, they find other 'survivors' from before and other times they encounter hostility.
Khan went on to say: “I saw a man from Pakistan go crazy. He was with us at the beginning and then we lost him. Ten days later when I had almost reached Italy, I suddenly saw him again. I was all alone. Once we got to the border I had fallen and hurt my back in the jungle and the others were forced to leave me.”
Khan found a lone house after walking for a long time and a lady helped him by giving him food and water whilst letting him sleep in the garden as his phone was being charged.
Suddenly the Pakistani man appeared again.
"He was reciting phrases from the Quran, flailing his arms around, talking to himself and his eyes looked wild. I think this journey had made him lose his mind," says Khan.
"He was normal when I met him at the beginning, and now, he seemed insane."
Can you imagine being in a situation so desperate you have to leave your friend or your own sibling behind?
‘The game’ is a term used by people trying to cross borders to go to other countries seeking safety and a better life, in Western Europe.
As smugglers exploit these people and our world leaders and authorities let them down, people are forced to starve and drink dirty water along dangerous routes. After being beaten by border police, their bodies laden with injuries/pain and their minds which are now traumatised for life - this is a bitter reminder that people with no choosing, really are part of a lethal game. A deadly game of chess played by the world where innocent people are no longer humans but pawns.
*Names changed to protect identity