Report from Brežice

Report from Brežice

On Friday we were in Brežice.

1) Change of plan in Brežice and lack of information

In the morning the police said that the reception centre Brežice is being closed down and that people will be transferred from there. Such information was also provided to the Civil protection and apparently, according to this information, they redirected food and water supplies elsewhere. During the day, first three full buses arrived and then additional four buses (police did not know exactly how many people were there, approximately 400 to 500). These people were placed outside behind the fence and nobody knew whether they will have to wait for the registration or transport to another location or stay here overnight. The police had not been informed in advance of the arrival of these two groups, nor they knew if more buses would arrive. This change of “plan” was a surprise for both, the police and the Civil protection and they were not prepared for it (no food or water).

The big problem was general lack of information, as we were not able to respond to any of the refugees’ questions (what are they waiting for, for how long, why aren’t they allowed to continue their way, when will the buses arrive, why don’t they get some water and food, why are they fenced as if they were not people, how can we let everyone (including children and infants) stay out in the cold…)


2) Accommodation/detention

According to the police reports in the morning, there were around 1,000 people that spent the night in Brežice. Some, who were fenced (literally) outside, had to go to register (in Brežice) for what they waited throughout the night and also today for more than 7 hours and had not received any food or water until 3:20 pm (when we left). Others, who were behind the second fence, went to Šentilj by buses without registration. Buses were arriving during the day, but approximately 150 people, who were last in line, after they waited throughout the whole night, had to wait for 7 more hours (as long as I was there). During this period, they did not get any water or food. There were two new groups (400-500 people) brought during the day from Rigonce and “accommodated” (which is not at all an appropriate expression) behind the fence, outside where the tents were.

As people did not know what was going on, why are they there, what are they waiting for and what will follow, they mostly remained outside and not inside tents, even children. Outside, people are lighting fire to warm up and when they do not have anything else, they are burning plastic which is dangerous, especially for those who already have breathing problems (there are also children with asthma in this area).

As people are being held for a long time and everyone is impatient and wants to proceed as soon as possible, there was a boiling point when people started shoving on their way from the fenced area to the buses. We did not see exactly what happened, but heard shouting (coming from all sides, refugees and police officers) and children crying, and shortly after, they took an unconscious young man with a head injury (he was bleeding) to the first aid station, after that he was taken to the hospital. Everyone was even more tense after that, especially the police.

Lack of major heated capacities in Brežice is a big problem because of the cold, especially if it rains. With the upcoming winter, it is a matter of survival. If the centre in Brežice will not be closed down, and if sufficiently heated premises (residential units, containers, tents, hangars) will not be provided, it would be reasonable to consider using existing municipal multipurpose spaces. It is especially absurd and completely unacceptable that several reception centres throughout Slovenia are empty while people in Brežice sleep outside in the cold.


3) Food and water

After days of pointing out the same problems, there are still two main problems with the food distribution plan and with the lack of hot food. People who go to registration get also food, water and tea. The problem is that those who spent the night outside in the cold and then waited for the registration and the buses all day long did not get anything, not even water, until at least 3 pm. We only managed to get milk for few babies. People were constantly asking for water and food (at least for children). Police allowed and encouraged the distribution of water and food, but Red Cross and Karitas volunteers told us that they are not allowed to distribute anything outside if it is not approved by the leader of the Civil protection. And it was not approved until 3.20 pm, despite the fact that in the meantime it was reported that there is enough food and water for everyone. It is urgent to make changes in food and water distribution system. Currently, food is being distributed after the registration, which is the biggest showstopper, since the decision on the retention is being issued to everyone, which takes time. Throughout the day we were pushing them to begin distributing food inside the fences outside in the open. Initially, everyone responded that it is Civil protection coordinator’s responsibility, to what he replied that they were surprised by the change of plan (centre Brežice not closing after all) and that they will start to distribute when they ensure enough of everything. After that, even more absurd situation happened – they took bottles of water close to the fences, but they did not distribute it to the people, they just left it there in one place. Volunteers who helped carrying water told us that they did not distribute it because allegedly (according to directions they were given) it should be distributed together with food which was still being prepared (nothing was distributed for at least another hour). This was completely pointless and it seemed that they merely wanted to avoid “double distribution”.

Distribution system should change so the food and the water can be distributed to the people immediately upon entering the reception centre. The Slovenian Red Cross, which is the key supplier, is located on the right side of the police station at the registration tent. Most people are located in a fenced part out in the open on the left side behind the police station where only the Red Cross emergency assistance teams are. It should be changed, not necessarily by reallocating, but instead functionally – people should be able to have access to Red Cross, medical aid, food, water, clothing first and then – if at all necessary – wait to register.

Another problem is that while there is hot food available in accommodation centres, there is no hot food available in reception centres. And it is the reception centres where people come shivering with cold, where they are held for a long time and where they spend nights sleeping outside in the open. It is urgent to organize and provide hot meals in reception centres.


4) Separation of families

Police allowed families, relatives or groups who have traveled together to wait for each other to go to the buses. It seems this somewhat improved since before. However, complaining and nagging coming from the policemen could be heard – comments such as “yeah, now they are all family” or “what, now we’ll wait for everyone” or “they’re all going to Austria anyway”. The biggest problems were regarding visits to doctors or hospitals. Two women with two infants and one small child were brought from hospital in Brežice back to the centre after two days. They were looking for their husbands who were not allowed to go the hospital with them and we did not have a slightest clue where they took them during those two days. They brought a woman from Rigonce, where there are no doctors, to Brežice, with an infant who needed help. Her husband stayed in Rigonce with two small children. She was in Brežice for approximately 2 hours and meanwhile they started to take people from Rigonce to other locations (also to Brežice, among other). After that it was unknown where the husband with two small children went. The search continued, but we do not have information whether they managed to unite the family.
It is still unknown whether the Red Cross family reunification system works or not. There is a lot of improvisation going on. If keeping the family together was a priority, these separations would be less common.


5) Translators

While they are indispensable and often play a key role in certain situation, there is not enough translators available. There were 2 to 3 translators (2 were present at all times) for Arab and Farsi language present there that we all needed and used. These translators work with UNHCR. When doctors urgently needed a translator, it has been often that he would be needed there for a very long time, during which it was not possible to communicate to a large majority of refugees. This hampered the search for family members.

The state should provide translators in all reception and accommodation centres. In a large centre such as Brežice, at least 4 or 5 translators for Arabic, Farsi and other languages are needed.


6) Internet

The establishment of WiFi hotspots is needed, people are often asking for it and, as they point out, it would be of great assistance in bringing separated families back together.


7) Police and army presence in Brežice was strong – too strong, particularly given the fact that in the morning there was “only” 1,000 people there and 700 during the day. Thus, a large number of policemen and soldiers were giving the impression of ‘state of emergency’ and some kind of extraordinary “security situation” – which was not true at all. Some refugees were wondering whether we are really so afraid of them that there is so many policemen and soldiers there, and they are fenced as they were not people like us. In that part, where people are waiting outside, behind the fences, there were not any volunteers present (except the Red Cross First Aid team). On the other side of the police station, however, where the registration is carried out and where the doctors, Red Cross and Civil protection are stationed, at moments seemed almost overcrowded with volunteers. Some of them did not even know what to help with, as they would not even go and check the situation behind the fences.

The system has been established, but has many gaps and need for improvement. More willingness for improvement is also necessary, particularly faster reactions to current situations and prompt adjustment in favor of the refugees.

The retention of people out in the open, especially at night (but also during the day) is unacceptable. The reception centre in Brežice is not adequate at all, especially not for a longer retention of people and it should be closed or completely renovated or alternative facility should be provided. Current state is appalling.