The family's journey stalled in Belgrade because they had run out of money. Since leaving Syria, Assad said he’s spent 12,000 euros (about $13,350) to get from Turkey, across to Greece, up through Macedonia and now Serbia. It’s an exorbitant amount for the elementary school math teacher, who hasn’t been able to teach in three years, due to Syria’s bloody civil war.
Assad said most of the money went to smugglers, who can charge as much as $2,000 per person for the perilous trip across the Mediterranean in a motorized rubber raft. Refugees also pay for each leg of the journey — whether it’s the bus from the Greek port of Piraeus to the Macedonia border or the bus ticket to Croatia.
The bus ticket to the Croatian border costs 10 euros, but Assad was flat broke. When he arrived in Belgrade on Monday, he called a relative in Germany to ask him to wire more money via Western Union. Until it arrives, the family will stay in the park, where volunteers helped them with food, water, blankets and medical care.
When Hungary closed its border with Serbia on Sept. 15, chaos ensued and thousands were left stranded. Most rerouted through Croatia, which initially held out a welcoming hand. But within three days, as many as 30,000 crossed into Croatia, a country of about 4 million.
Croatia began putting the refugees on buses and trains north to Slovenia, which angered officials in Ljubljana. Zagreb quickly closed all its border crossings with Serbia except for one on Sept. 18, and began busing migrants toward its northern border with Hungary.
Meanwhile, refugees continued to make their way to Serbia, through what is now known as the Balkan corridor from Greece. An estimated 4,500 asylum seekers continue to pass along this now well-worn path each day, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Thousands of those migrants arrive in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, and to this dusty park adjacent to the main bus station. For months, this has been ground zero for the refugees coming through here, either by bus from the Macedonian border or by transportation arranged by a smuggler, who carried them across from Bulgaria.
Volunteers are as confused about the constantly changing border situation as the refugees. On Tuesday, the InfoPark’s information board outside its small, wooden hut advised going to Croatia “as soon as you can.”
“As long as there’s a possibility to get through there, they should go immediately,” Selmanovic said. “No one knows what will happen tomorrow.”
A young Afghan man from Kabul, Ihsanullah, was left broke after his journey to Europe. The 22-year-old had been in Belgrade for four days. From a refugee legal aid center up the street from Belgrade’s main train station, Ihsanullah was checking his Facebook account to see if his father had managed to raise enough money to wire him some help.
“Where is Croatia?” he asked, when questioned if that border would be his next destination. Like many Afghans, Ihsanullah goes only by one name. He didn’t understand English and spoke broken Urdu while a refugee from Pakistan translated.
Ihsanullah had been traveling for five months. His group of five — all young, unemployed men from Kabul — had no intention of returning to their war-torn country now. After the wire transfer comes in, they will move on to a more prosperous and welcoming European country.
“We wait. Then go to Germany,” Ihsanullah said.