The Last Road to Hungary
We drove from Belgrade south to the Macedonian border without seeing a single refugee. We spent the night in a small hotel in Kopje – where unemployment is 27.3% and our night manager makes $3,400 a year – planning to find a small border crossing the next day and travel back toward Hungary.
We crossed without incident at a tiny outpost and wound past an 11th-century monastery and high into the Serbian hills. It was a beautiful, cloudless day, and with no signs of the turbulence of which we’d read, it felt like a trip back in time to an unchanging world of small farmers and rural villages. Until we got near the Hungarian border.
“Over there,” said DeWitt, pointing to lines of people walking along the railroad tracks a few hundred yards from the road. They carry their belongings in backpacks or plastic bags; some carry nothing at all.
They keep coming and coming, groups of men, mostly young, families with small children – some walking, others being carried – and grandparents. They are heading to the last opening along the border, a rail line that crosses into Hungary, a country racing to erect a high 109-mile razor-wire fence, at the small town of Roske. Half a mile north, a temporary city of tents had been erected on farmland, and dozens of buses line the one-lane road.
The police turn us away for lack of proper credentials. DeWitt tries to talk his way in by describing his earlier films of Eastern European refugees seeking to get to America. I fare no better by producing my metro card.
We find another way to the camp. Eleven thousand people arrived here yesterday, 3,500 more today. There are rumors, largely discounted, that the Hungarian government will close the border tonight.
We watch the police close one border exactly at 5 p.m. We try to drive to the railroad tracks on a dirt road along the border fence, but are stopped by an unamused policeman and soldier. We manage to get to the tracks in time to see the military erect a high metal fence reinforced by razor wire and thereby close the last open entry into Hungary.