Smuggling of Easterners to the West

Boris Raseta

SAT, 01 JUL 2000

Zagreb, June 27, 2000 - When at the time of the former, non-democratic regime Zoran Pusic, president of the Civil Human Rights Committee, tried to "smuggle" across Croatian-Hungarian border a returnee of Serb ethnic origin who had not been permitted by Croatian authorities to return, the customs officer, sincerely amazed, asked the notorious question: "Why", asked the state official, "like all normal people, aren’t you smuggling sausages instead of Serbs?" Activist Pusic immediately gave him a politically correct answer: "The man has the inalienable right to citizenship which the authorities deny him, and I am just setting right the political injustice by bringing him where he belongs. This action is, therefore, humanitarian and non-profitable."

Nowadays, less than two years after Pusic’s case of “smuggling”, the same border is the site of similar scenes. The pattern is, however, slightly different. Croatia is not the desirable ultimate goal any more like it was in the eyes of Pusic’s Serb refugee: for the people caught at the border, this young state does not sufficiently personify the ideals of “true West”. This time Croatia is just a transit point in the illegal migration of Easterners to the West. And it is not an exceptional, but a mass phenomenon. Moreover, it concerns mostly the inhabitants of the states of the Far (more rarely, Near) East, and in the background of the whole story stands not at all a humanitarian ideal, but an extremely well developed illegal business, which is precisely organised, transnational and which – according to certain estimates – by its proportions can be compared only with narcotics trade in Croatia! The randomly chosen examples of illegal passengers caught in not permitted crossing of the border selected from the pages of Croatian press (from black chronicles, of course) clearly demonstrate that Croatian borders are quite permeable and that the number of those who are abusing this permeability is literally high. For instance, in the past few days a “shipment” of 26 Chinese citizens was discovered in the cargo container of a truck near Cabar in Gorski kotar. The police did not make it public whether the illegal passengers were discovered after a denunciation or accidentally, but they ended up in prison in Rijeka, since the Chinese had no money to pay the fine for the offence, so they will have to remain in prison until they serve the time sentence. Nobody knows what will happen to them afterwards – whether Croatia will extradite them to their native state or not (probably not), but the protective measure of ban to enter Croatia during the next two years was also pronounced for the Chinese. The Croatian public was not informed whether the caught Chinese had paid to be smuggled, to whom and how much, but it is known that as a rule, the price for “export” from China is 10,000 US dollars.

Those who are studying this phenomenon have already wondered why people who have that amount of money need to flee from China when this sum is a real fortune in that Far-Eastern country. It is allegedly some kind of a fashionable social custom where it is a matter of prestige to go to a promising country of the West, and whole villages are involved in organisation of departure by principle of solidarity. Croatian police has not revealed how much money the Chinese caught in Cabar had paid, but the sum probably is not below the mentioned 10,000 dollars. A part of the money probably ended up in the pockets of 22-year old S.B., a young man from Bosnia in whose truck the caught Chinese were caught. But since criminal proceedings against him have not been completed, there are still no precise answers to the questions on true character of the revealed “shipment”.

Some time later in a forest near Zdihova – also in Gorski kotar next to the Slovenian border – 21 runaways from Bangladesh were revealed in another police operation. Policemen from Vrbovsko, a municipality in the vicinity of the border discovered runaways who had entered Croatia from Slovenia where they had allegedly expected – political asylum. Since none of them – and they were young men between the age of 21 and 36 – had no money to pay the minimum fines equal to about one hundred German marks, the young men from Bangladesh were also detained in prison in Rijeka. Like the Chinese, they were also forbidden to return to Croatia in the next two years, but it is also impossible to find out where they will be sent. Croatian border is not illegally crossed only in the direction from Hungary or Slovenia, from Bosnia along the Sava river, but also across the Una river. During the past month, near Cetingrad in Kordun the police prevented illegal entrance of 44 persons, 36 of whom were Iranians, six Turks and two Armenians. According to a curt police statement, they all had the intention to go via Croatia to one of the European countries. Just a couple of days later, two citizens of Karlovac were arrested because they were caught in the attempt to bring 23 foreign citizens from Bosnia into Croatia at six o’clock in the morning. They were citizens of Iran who had illegally entered Croatia near Tatar varos also in the municipality of Cetingrad, and they had allegedly paid the two suspected citizens of Karlovac two thousand kunas each for mediation in this operation.

For the same act two Bosnians, Hakija Seferagic and Safet Dervisevic, were sentenced by the municipal court in Karlovac to two and eight months in prison, respectively, suspended for three years, because they were caught in Rakovica in the attempt to take 25 Turks and Iranians to Zagreb for 2500 marks. Croatian border is attractive for runaways in Varazdin, too: in the course of June at Gornja Voca, 49 foreigners of still undetermined origin were found who were transported in a Zastava truck by a Croatian citizen. It is interesting that all these people were found without a single identification paper. During this month, a Slovenian was caught near Buje in Istria who had intended to bring into his homeland three Romanies of Croatian and Yugoslav citizenship. And finally, also this June, a police patrol caught near Orasje 11 Turkish citizens four of whom were minors who intended to enter Croatia. Their helper was from the district of Brcko.

If it had not been for the tragic event in English port of Dover where policemen found corpses of 58 frozen Chinese, smuggling of people would have probably remained in the shadow of more attractive events for the media for some more time. But, in view of the massiveness and conditions in which the new migration of people is taking place it should not surprise that a tragedy of such proportions took place in Dover. It was inevitable if for no other reason because of the law of large figures. It is quite a miracle that, in such proportions, the misfortune had not happened in Croatia. Nevertheless, smuggling of people has already taken its toll in human lives here, too. In the end of May, in the Sava river, north of Slavonski Brod, corpses were found of four drowned men with Iranian citizenship, who had fallen off a capsized boat in which they were crossing over to Croatia from Bosnia & Herzegovina. According to certain sources there were as many as 35 asylum seekers on that boat, so it is mere luck that there had not been more bodies found in this catastrophe. Immediately after that, in the beginning of June already, between Dubocac and Slavonski Brod, three new bodies were found in the Sava river. Immediately after they had been found, the police confirmed with certainty that two of them had been foreigners and that the third was of an unknown origin. According to the found documents, two drowned persons were of Iranian origin, and the third, a female, of unknown nationality, but judging by the features almost certainly of “Asian origin”, as it was put in the statement of Brod police administration. The eldest drowned person was 50, the other one was a young man of 27 and the woman was middle-aged. The eldest had 8500 German marks and 305 American dollars on him. The other drowned person and the woman had no money. Had these three unfortunate people been a part of the same “shipment” or had another ship capsized in the meantime? Statistics of revealed illegal migrants indicates that there could have been other victims. Just in the three past years, 2,490 runaways from the East have been accommodated in a special reception centre in the village of Jezevo near Zagreb. This variegated company comes from 53 countries and in touristic terms, they have spent here 53,035 days “together with board, medical treatment and provision for hygienic and other needs”. According to official statistics, until recently the most numerous were the Kurds and the Turks, whose domination has recently been jeopardised by the Chinese obviously because, among other, they have found a geopolitically conveniently located stepping stone in neighbouring Yugoslavia under political patronage of Slobodan Milosevic.

Federal ministry of internal affairs of B&H has recently revealed that Sarajevo is one of the main channels or organised smuggling of people from the East to Western Europe. Via Butmir airport, emigrants are driven to Srebrenik, Velika Kladusa, Mostar and Teslic, and from there via Croatia to Western Europe. A part of the Easterners go to Italy via Zadar and Sibenik, and other routes lead through Slovenia and Hungary, or Montenegro in the south – to the ultimate destination of their dreams.

No such detailed outline of transit via Kosovo and Serbia has been revealed so far, but there is no doubt that channels for smuggling people are well organised and that persons engaged in this business are not hindered by any ethnic, political or religious differences. It will most probably be impossible to solve this problem before full consolidation of south-eastern Europe.

Original article