I arrived at the refugee camp in Dobova on the Slovenian-Croatian border just after the first snow had fallen. The large white tents, humming generators, military vehicles, police vans and flood lights stood just off the road about 100 meters from the passport control area. The heavily clad police walked in pairs or threes through the slush and others stood under a propane heater smoking. Near the first large tent stood two soldiers with helmets hanging from their belts and machine guns strung up high against their chests.
Straightaway I was given a badge, a florescent vest and told to take plenty of latex gloves and a facemask and to follow a man who’d obviously been there for many hours. He looked tired as he popped biscuits into his mouth and shifted his weight from one foot to another talking rapidly. Although he spoke Slovenian I understood enough to make out that he’d held a two-day-old baby that day; his face gleamed despite his tiredness. He rolled a cigarette clumsily and I followed him to pick up two large garbage cans and take them into tent number 3, which we were to clean.
Inside was that humid, sweet, nauseating stench of wet humanity on the move, something I’d experienced before but never on this scale. A heater vent pumped in hot air and the wet UN blankets strewn all across the floor of the 30m wide and 100m long tent gave off a light steam. The tent was broken up into four spaces longitudinally by portable metal fences, the kind that are put up at sporting events, parades and outdoor concerts. Everywhere were half-eaten tins of sardines, milk packs, water bottles, bruised apples, pieces of white bread, diapers, shoes, trousers, socks, plastic bags full of garbage and abandoned blue Ikea bags, wrappers, wet sleeping bags, rough plastic mats for sleeping on. By its appearance, a great traumatic event had just taken place Continue reading