Text: Erika Tasini
Video: Pablo Ferro
Images: Christine Pawlata
A thick, mysterious folder sits on the desk of Tibor’s office in Subotica, a quaint village turned into crossing hotspot between Serbia and Hungary.
In this border town, Tibor, an Protestant pastor and the proud father of seven children, first established his volunteers’ association in 2008. Ever since, he’s been on a mission to support not only migrants, but anyone in need. For his militant dedication, he has become a bit of a celebrity among locals and refugees alike.
The folder contains, amongst others, health reports for members of the family from various Iraqi hospitals or doctors, a law school diploma, a Diploma certifying training with an international human rights organisation, various hand-written letters in Arabic, a letter in English explaining that most members of the group are ill and need immediate treatment. (See the gallery at the bottom of this page for pictures of some of these documents.)
Tibor found the folder in an abandoned duty free shop located in the no man's land between before the border with Hungary, where thousands of homeless refugees were stranded after Hungary closed its.
Everything changed, he claims, after the closing of the Balkan Route in September 2015. When we visited the area, about 300 refugees were housed inside an official camp and at least 200 are outside, for the most part stuck in Kelebija and Horgos -- overcrowded informal encampments with no electricity and water between the two border checkpoints.
Most individuals and groups that are pushed back from Hungary would rather stay in this no man’s land than go back to Serbia -- hoping that the border will soon reopen.
Due to the shutting down of the Balkan route, the area with the empty duty free shops has now been completely abandoned. Its emptiness haunting, the place is almost unrecognizable.
In Fall 2015 as everyone was still trying desperately to reach the EU, there were so many things left behind, Tibor adds, that he did not know where to begin. He decided to collect a few meaningful items. In the case of the folder, its loss was certainly devastating for its owners: it was systematically organized by a lawyer and activist, who was relying on these documents to build a solid case for an Iraqi family seeking asylum in Europe (hence the English translations of all diplomas and letters).
Tibor and his son tried calling the few phone numbers they found inside the folder, but to no avail. Yet, the pastor decided to hold on to everything: he’s convinced that, wherever s/he might be, the owner will be back for it.
As we look through it, we realize that we cannot wait for the owners to travel back to Subotica. They need it now. We decide to look for them ourselves.
And so our adventure begins...
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