The flood shows no signs of ebbing. Been twice now to the border crossing into Serbia. The first time was two day ago. Before the police began
putting restrictions on aid workers and journalists. That experience will always remain with me. The conditions were frightening. The police had barricaded the road just outside Bapska, 1 1/2 Km from the border. I'd driven there with a Spanish journalist I'd met earlier that morning. Together we walked the single lane road that snakes thru wine vineyards and freshly plowed fields of rich dark soil. The region has a long histoty of wine making dating back to Roman times. We weren't there for that nor were the hundrends and hundrends of refugees now trapped in the no-mans-land between Serbia and Croatia. They'd been 'released' from Serbia but the Croatian authorities in an attempt to bring some order, were severely restricting the flow on their side. This was the setting for the scene we'd entered.
As we approached the border it was clear the police were desperately trying to maintain some control of the throngs trapped behind the 8' barricades. Hundrends upon hundreds of people all standing ankle deep mud, the few possessions they still had at their side caked in thick grey clay-like mud. Littering the ground was a carpet of countless discarded shoes, childrens clothes, and hundrends of blankets with the blue UNHCR logo just barely still recognizable in the filth. Unlike Opatovac, there were no portable toilets here. These people had been trapped here overnight and in an desparate attempt to stay warm first stripped the trees of all the their branches, then as the temperatues dropped into the low 40's, resorted to burning the sleeping bags and camping tents they'd carried with them in some cases from as far away as Greece and Macedonia. The choking smell of the toxic smoke was overpowering,
No food or water had yet reached this hellish sight, and what small bits of stuff we'd carried with us was gone in a moment. By late morning the situation had grown even worse. Apparently the camp at Opatovac was filled to capacity and the Slovaks were also severaly limiting the number allowed to be sent there. By this time the refugees had become nearly uncontrollable and fights began to break out. In an effort to get away the women and children were forced against the barricades the police were determined to keep standing. There was screaming and yelling everywhere. The police were on bullhorns tying to force the people back had nightsticks in hand and it looked as if at any moment they'd begin using them on the crowd. It was at this moment I found myself at the front of the barricades just steps behind the police. There were perhaps 15 of us, all aid workers. A mix of men and women who instinctively without any clear orders came together and began rushing past the police grabbing women and children
as they were about to the trampled. We formed a sort of instant army of our own pulling the most vulnerable out of the crowd in some cases ripping children from their mothers arms in order that they not be trampled. We'd then run back from the police lines hand the children to one of our own and charge the line again. The childrens screams of terror as they were torn from their mothers arms was something I don't think I'll ever forget.
After what seemed like eternity, the police re-gained control and we were able to begin to reunite the traumatized children with their mothers. When the scene calmed those of us who'd worked together in such a surreal way all stood and looked deeply into each-others tear filled eyes. All of us knew we'd bonded in a way few people ever do. In that moment we were no longer Croats, Serbs, Austrians, Germans, Slovaks or Americans....we were all just human beings who cared about each-other anbd or fellow man.