As we left the train station, it occurred to us that it might be useful to have the number for a local taxi. We approached one of the taxi drivers outside the station, got his number, and told him that we were looking for refugees. He looked surprised, but then told us that he sometimes saw refugees around town, although most of them were around the brick factory. When we told him that we might give him a call later, he explained that he is not allowed to take refugees: the police counts this as human trafficking, confiscates the taxi and puts the driver in jail, even if the taxi ride did not go near the border.
We wanted to buy some food for the people we might meet, so we started asking passers-by about shops or bakeries that are open on Sunday. After a few unsuccessful attempts, an elderly man offered to show us the way to the market. On the way there, we casually mentioned that we are from a migrant solidarity group in Budapest, and asked whether he knew anything about migrants in Subotica. He seemed reluctant to talk about them, explaining that the economic situation is so bad that everybody with an education leaves town. When we changed the topic he cheered up and told us about the history of Subotica until we reached the market.
After we bought food, we started walking: left from the train station, right on the first big road, then the first left, and straight ahead passing some train tracks and a working factory. We knew we had arrived when we passed that factory on the left, and saw a big dormant chimney on the right. All in all, the walk takes about half an hour, so we had plenty of time to devise a plan and discuss our expectations. We agreed to talk to people over breakfast, and to take inventory of their most urgent needs so that we could go back to the city to buy them.
When we were just about to leave, we saw a young couple emerging from the fields. Hussein* and Amira* left Iraq a month ago and are on their way to relatives in Germany. Like us they were going in the direction of the station, so we decided to go together. Hussein worked for a foreign company, so he speaks very good English. He told us about their journey, and asked what was the longest period of time any of us had ever walked in one stretch. Nobody could match, or even come close to, the forty hours that they pulled off last week. When we asked how they knew where to go, Hussein showed us his phone and explained that they relied on GPS. He charges his phone wherever he can, for example at people’s houses or in public places. Hussein showed us pictures of the constructions people made in the field behind the factory to find some shelter during the night. We heard that the police regularly raid the main building of the factory, looking for money and burning people’s belongings. Stories like that travel fast, so most refugees are afraid to stay inside the factory, and instead hide in the area around it. Hussein and Amira explained that they didn’t sleep for two days because they hadn’t been able to find proper shelter, and that they did not want to eat. After they told us that they were about to start the last leg of their journey, which involved crossing the Hungarian border, we inferred that in such a stressful situation food was the last thing on their minds.
Before we said goodbye, we took a selfie with Hussein’s phone, and he asked us whether we were walking back to Budapest. For someone who has had to rely on his own two feet for such a long time, it wasn’t a strange question, but it made him laugh when he realized that the fact that we all had valid documents meant that we did not have to think in these terms.
*Not their real names