Tired Croatian bus drivers ferry refugees at night

2015-10-01 17:44
Refugees after arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos. (File, AFP)

Refugees after arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos. (File, AFP)

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Zagreb - They usually chauffeur tourists or schoolchildren, but Croatian bus drivers are now working into the night ferrying thousands of migrants from one corner of their country to another.

"Temporary transport," say the signs on their buses. Behind the wheels, the drivers' eyes are tired after a week that has seen them working at a furious pace.

"The hardest part is not the driving, it's the waiting," said Domagoj Majstorovic, who does the school run during the day and transports migrants at night and on the weekends.

He waits at the Baranjsko Petrovo Selo border post by Hungary for his passengers to disembark, having arrived in a 10-bus convoy from a migrant centre near the Serbian border, about 100km away.

It is a cumbersome process: a bus cannot be emptied until all the migrants in the preceding vehicle have been carefully searched by the Hungarian police, before being shepherded into a buffer zone.

Record 10 000 migrants on one day

Another driver admitted to being "a little tired".

"I've been getting up at 05:00 and not getting home until midnight for five days. Normally, I work eight hours a day," he said.

Their various bus companies have made vehicles available to the government to evacuate the unrelenting flow of migrants and refugees that has entered Croatia since mid-September - an influx that reached a record 10 000 on Friday.

Previously, tens of thousands of people - many of them fleeing conflict in countries such as Syria and Afghanistan - had travelled from Greece up through Serbia directly into Hungary, on their way to seeking better lives in northern Europe.

But Hungary's decision to seal its border with Serbia in September has seen the travellers re-route their trail through neighbouring Croatia.

'We reassure them'

"They are not impolite, not aggressive. All that they ask us is to recharge their phones or for water. If we have it, we give it to them," said Marko Rasic, dressed in his Terzic Bus uniform.

"Generally, they don't know where they are going. They ask us and wince when we tell them Hungary. We tell them it is just in transit, they will go to Austria. It reassures them."

Rasic is not, however, so impressed by his working conditions.

"The smells are not nice, the hygiene conditions are catastrophic," he told AFP, adding that the protective hygiene face masks they wear are of "no use".

"We are the most exposed," he said, as he watched police wearing the same masks but working outside. "The buses are not even disinfected every day," added one of Rasic's colleagues.

Majstorovic pointed out that "the pay is attractive, it's night hours, overtime" - but he did not know how long this so-called "temporary transport" could continue.

"We heard that there are two million people (in camps) in Turkey, if they all pass through here..." he trailed off.

‘We also experienced war’

Hungary's hard line Prime Minister Viktor Orban has also threatened to seal the Croatian border, leaving the migrants' path uncertain.

For now, Croatian drivers such as Robert Hedji hope they can offer a little comfort on the long and difficult journey.

"I understand them, we also experienced war," he said, referring to the 1991-95 conflict that devastated the former Yugoslav republic.

"They come tense, tired. On the bus, they are relaxed, they sleep. They look for a happy life, we're helping them a small part of the way."

Read more on:    hungary  |  croatia  |  refugees

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