Tell her: ” He lives happily there in peace.”
Don’t tell her that he is a * khapda* ( helpless person )
and worried all the time.
My brothers, you, who are going back
to visit your homeland,
don’t tell my mother how I live here.
My mother has a godlike nature, she has done a lot for me.
My duty is to repay her only (with) happiness
I worry all the time, I am depressed but don’t tell her about that.
My greatest wish is to hug my mother.
I have to survive here somehow…
If my mother wants to hug me,
She will have to wait for many years.
For the sake of her life, don’t tell her the truth,
hide it from her. When you come to my village,
Friends, my mother is an innocent creature,
If she found out the truth about me
It would hurt her.
Do not say a word about me,
and how I live.
Don’t tell her.
The author of these lyrics is a boy called Nazim, from Pakistan. With this song, he is sending a message to his mother via some people from his village, who are going back to their homeland. Nazim spent nine months in a prison in Hungary, after being deported from Austria. He started writing songs in prison, with the other boys. The song is in the Punjabi language and was recorded and translated into English by the migrants in a refugee camp in Hungary. Nazim is on the road at the moment and his future is very uncertain.
Nazim’s song can also be heard in a documentary called Welcome to Hotel Europe, by Sara Preradović. The documentary deals with the everyday life of migrants in the jungle, an informal station for migrants on the outskirts of Subotica, at the Serbia-Hungary border, as they attempt to reach Europe. It was shown at the Migrant Film Festival in Ljubljana in 2013.
We talked to the activists, Sara Preradović, the author of the documentary and Ela Meh, co-author, in our radio show Flight Control on Radio Študent in June 2013. These are the extracts from the interview from our archives.
How did you decide on making a documentary about migrants in Serbia?
Ela: Serbia is a transit country for migrants, but in the last few years because the Schengen border of the European Union has moved more to the south and east, people have been blocked in Serbia for weeks, months or even years. They live in different conditions, but many of them, especially those who don’t have much money, live on the outskirts of certain cities, like Subotica for example, and they live in really bad conditions. They have no documents and are thus illegalised by the system, their very presence there is illegalised and criminalised. They can be stopped and arrested just because they have no documents and they entered Serbia illegally. That means they live in hiding and often in very bad material conditions, they haven’t got enough money for food, they live in tents, as you can see in the film. The mainstream media have talked more about this problem in the last three years. But, the problem is in the fact that there is no critical discourse towards this situation and no critical analysis of it.
Sara: I found out about this problem quite by accident, I just went there… That place is actually situated at the Subotica city dump. I was drawn to it more and more afterwards and then we started researching the legislation and the rest. This ongoing problem and the injustice arouses anger in all of us, I think. Well, of course, we must have some sort of reaction to it.
The migrants live in Serbia for a certain amount of time, waiting for the right moment to move on?
Sara: Yes, it’s a little different now, if they ask for protection in Hungary, they don’t get deported. But they used to be deported right away, which means they had no chance of entering Hungary, so a great number of them stayed on the Serbian side for months, and some of our friends had been there for over a year. In the meantime they would be deported back to Macedonia, then they would come back.
Ela: They’ve been in prison several times, they’ve been blackmailed by the police… Concerning the expression illegal migrants or whatever, we use the term illegalised migrants most often. It emphasises the core of the problem and that is the system which excludes people in that manner. If we say illegal, it lays guilt on the migrants themselves and if we say illegalised, it means that the system which has illegalised them is to blame. The situation is constantly changing. The jungles are sometimes in Subotica and sometimes somewhere else; there is also the asylum centre which is sometimes full, and sometimes empty. The details on where the migrants live or where they get together are changing constantly but what always remains is the border. The border with Croatia is becoming increasingly difficult, they are trying to cross over there more and more. The border remains and the system of exclusion of those people on all levels remains, and police violence which accompanies all that also remains, and those things are real. There is a conversation in the film between Sara and her Hungarian neighbour in which she asks him if the police have come and he answers that they haven’t officially come, but he thinks they will and that’s suspicious… Actually he’s talking about the fact that the police are taking advantage of the situation… They come to the jungle or places where migrants are and even though they have a legal right to arrest and deport them, they don’t actually do that if the migrants can pay. It’s a mass occurence. When we went there and talked to our friends, we heard terrible stories about the way the police treated them. There’s no mention of that in the Serbian media. The migrants are always mentioned in the security discourse, as a threat to our security because we don’t know who the illegals are and why they came here… There’s really little understanding of the situation. There’s no mention of what their life is really like, how bad the material conditions they live in are, that they are constantly harassed by the police and that hardly anybody knows about it or tries to make some contact of solidarity.
Sara: In fact, it all comes down to banality, documents, a piece of paper- that’s what creates distinctions. Does it mean that if a person hasn’t got that stupid passport or ID card, he or she doesn’t exist and anything can happen to him or her and noone is responsible?!
You mentioned a Hungarian neighbour. What do people in Subotica and the surroundings think of the migrants? Do they have any contact with them?
Sara: They are prejudiced, uninformed, they don’t even know where those people are from and why they came here. Some of them accept the media discourse and the way they are represented. And there is probably some kind of compassion, I mean, we can’t say they are excluded by everyone. If we talk about Serbia specifically, it’s very hard to expect anything, any kind of organised activity, because we all know there’s widespread apathy.
But they know where those jungles are, they know people live there?
Ela: It happens, especially in winter, that many people become compassionate and individuals and families get organised and bring food to the migrants. It’s a form of direct solidarity which even saves lives at that moment. Last winter, state of emergency was declared in Serbia because it was -25 degrees outside. But what I’ve noticed when talking to some of those individuals was that they haven’t analysed the entire problem, it’s a humanitarian problem for them- we help those people because they are miserable. They haven’t thought about why those people were even here and what were the factors excluding them. The victimisation of the migrants shows that people don’t really understand what they went through. People in the Subotica area don’t understand these things, they are becoming compassionate and humane, which is nice by all means, but on the other side, what’s lacking is the criticism of the legislation which directly causes the problem. They always say: “Oh, they’re just a little unhappy because they are in a bad situation, it’s so cold and it’s hard.” They don’t mention that the borders still exist in the summer or in the autumn when it’s not cold and that people are treated differently. A person born in Afganistan is treated differently than someone born in Serbia, and completely differently than someone born in Germany. I woluldn’t like to critisice those people because it’s great that they want to come and help, but then, I don’t know, one wonders what the purpose of all that is… Only to bring some clothes every winter when it’s really cold… Is there something else we could focus our energy on and point to what’s really going on?
Sara: It is presented as if those people had a choice of the way they would enter (the country), of the way they would travel, as if they chose to cross the borders illegally because, I don’t know…
Ela: It is presumed that everybody could get a visa. But, in fact, noone who could get a visa would choose to travel like this, in an illegalised way.
How did they react when they saw you with the camera? One can see in the film that there was mutual trust. How did you build it?
Sara: I didn’t start filming straight away, first we built really close relations and then started filming. Actually, they are all wonderful and very open and it means a lot to them even when someone pays them a visit. We are helpless too. Sometimes, all we can do is listen to somebody, but even that can mean a lot. We’ve never had any inconveniences or bad experiences. Their eastern hospitality is well known… The waiting is terrible, they have to wait everywhere. Those are mostly young people, of our generation and their best years are being wasted. And if they get to that promised land, their chances of getting a visa there are extremely slim and they will also wait there for two, three, five, ten years…
Ela: They are so marginalised and pushed aside, that when somebody comes, they ask:”Wait, are you police? And if you’re not police then you’re humanitarians, and if you’re not them, then what are you…?” What are we? People who suffer because this world is the way it is, because people have to live like this. We also learn a lot by going to see them. A whole new world has opened up for me. What we stand for is the complete opening of all borders. Not just opening borders, but not having borders, and that’s a discourse which is percieved as completely naive and utopian, at least in Serbia and in the Balkans. Talking to people is important to us. People who have been illegalised for months and years experience a change of perspective and they start feeling guilty, as if they did something wrong by coming here. If you’re constantly sent to prison and told you can’t do anything, you change perspective, even though you’re actually aware that this world belongs to all of us and you can be wherever you want to be. That’s why it’s important for us to go there and talk and show that many of us share that perspective, even though it’s not the predominant discourse. And that’s why it’s important to say: “No, all of us are entitled to this country, not just the ones born in Slovenia or wherever.”
There aren’t many people talking about their lives in front of the camera, but their life is shown through images and different frames. Could you comment on that?
Sara: On one side I felt a need to document this, because people don’t know much about this in Serbia, and on the other side, I had a terrible feeling I was going there as a European white woman to film people and their suffering and on top of all, ask them questions about the whole frustrating situation, to harass them in a way, like a stupid journalist or something. The idea was to make the camera invisible as much as possible. I wasn’t behind the camera often, the recording was on and then it recorded what it recorded… I hope the emotions and the atmosphere can be felt in the film.
Where did the name of the film come from?
Sara: The migrants told me that when they stayed in a prison in Hungary for a while, before the deportation, they were greeted with words: “Welcome to Hotel Europe”, and that’s where the name actually came from.
What is the migrants’ perception of Europe?
Sara: Their perception of Europe when starting their trip and are still in their native country is one thing and their later perception of it is another. They see Europe as some kind of paradise. And then, while on the road, already in Greece, they have those terrible experiences. However, it seems to me they still think it will get better as they get closer to that Germany or Sweden. And that’s the life force driving them to go on. They have their dreams even while they’re in Serbia. And it’s very hard for us, wondering what to tell them, whether to crush their dreams, tell them what to expect there or… We all know they draw strength from those dreams. It’s really hard. I think that most of them, after spending years on the road, see it as a mistake, but then again most of them had no other choice but to leave the country. Most of them don’t tell the whole truth to their families. They don’t tell them about everything they’re going through, and even if they do, those who are at home, their brothers for example, don’t believe it’s really like that here. The glorification of Europe in their eyes is incredible.