The Gateway to the EU


The sun rises over the Serbian border on the road leading into Hungary and the European Union.  near the town of Szeged

It is 4:30 in the morning as I walk across the border of Hungary leaving the European Union behind and 20 seconds later arrive in Serbia.  The sun is starting to rise above the trees, the dew has set and the air is thick with mosquitos.  As I stare at the faint lights in the distance it become swiftly over powered by the rising sun. I am looking at the Serbian town of Kanjiža, and there, together with Subotica in the north, thousands upon thousands of men, women and children will attempt to cross this border into Hungary. It has been a long journey for these people and this is one of the final major hurdles before they can (relatively easily) cross borders into any country in the EU. Once they have achieved this crossing the Schengen border codes dictate that they can move somewhat freely through the EU by rail and without multiple passport checks.

The migrants from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia have escaped war and famine in a attempt to build a new life in the EU.


The Hungarian Border Police patrol the Serbian Hungarian border crossing near the town of Szeged

The border police arrive at 5am and I produce my passport which I have kept close at hand.  However, they seemed unfazed by my presence, and, as I had received tips and advice from other photojournalists, I can only assume that the presence of photographers and journalists at border lines is part of their daily life. I had repeatedly rehearsed, in my best Hungarian, a short speech informing them that I am a member of the EU and I made absolute sure I knew the word for journalist and “Én vagyok a Scotland” (I come from Scotland), but I never got to use it.


A member of the Hungarian Border Police walks on the outskirts of a wooded area by the Serbian Hungarian Border crossing, close to the town of Szeged.

One thing I did notice was that the border police did not stray far from the road. Rather they would patrol the roads until they happened across the migrants as well as waiting for migrants to come approach them at border crossings.   Where I was stationed, at the crossing close to the villages of Mórahalom and Ásotthalom and the town of Subotica in Serbia, migrants were easily spotted by police as once clear of border lines their access to anywhere else was either along few open roads or fighting their way through huge fields of corn or Sunflowers.


A vast field of Sunflower is pictured in the Green fields area of the Hungarian Serbian Border  near the village of  Asotthalom

As I drove through Mórahalom I came across a large group of migrants sitting on the road by an empty van and surrounded by border police. I introduced myself to the police and began to take pictures.  As I took in the scene I noticed that inside the van were more people, and in front of it a man in handcuffs.


32 Migrants from Afghanistan sit on the side of the road after the van trafficking them in to Hungary was stopped by Border Police


A Serbian man in handcuffs and 32 Migrants from Afghanistan sit on the side of the road after the van trafficking them in to Hungary was stopped by Border Police

The man had driven from Serbia with 32 Afghani migrants inside a van smaller than a school mini bus.  32 men and women in this tiny space.  I try to figure out how this is even possible. Funnily enough they seem in relatively high spirits as they sit in the morning sun.  Despite being stopped here they know they have made it over the border. Eventually the van is towed away and the police mock the Serbian man with a sarcastic wave as it leaves.  It is reported about 1000 people make this crossing every day and according to most Hungarian farmers in this region, it is a daily occurrence to see large groups of people sitting by the side of the road surrounded by police.

All the migrants I met this week were heading further into the EU, to places such as Sweden and particularly Germany.  One of the migrants regaled me with his best German phrase “ich liebe Deutschland” (I love Germany) and gave me a thumbs up as they boarded a bus to be processed for asylum.


Migrants are put on a bus in Mórahalom to be processed for asylum after being stopped by the Hungarian Border Police for crossing the border from Serbia.


Migrants from Syria look on from a police bus after being stopped for crossing the border from Serbia in the village of Mórahalom


Migrants from Syria look on from a police bus after being stopped for crossing the border from Serbia in the village of Mórahalom


An Afghan child and his father walk along a road after entering Hungary from Serbia through the green fields zone near the village of Asotthalom

I decided to make the trip to cover this story because of Hungary’s decision to erect a four meter high temporary wall along it’s border with Serbia in an to attempt to stem the flow of migrants wanting to enter the EU. A decision that has been highly criticised by most of Europe and many human rights charities.

It was a strange experience to see police surrounding large swaths of people on the side of the road but to then discover that rather than the dejection of being caught these people were jubilant at having made it into the European Union – the end, and yet the beginning of their long journeys.   Furthermore to see the hope and happiness in their faces that life will eventually, wherever they might end up, be it Germany, Sweden or the United Kingdom, be prosperous. 

I personally have never been to the countries that these people have fled so I would not know, neither could I pass judgement on whether it is possible to exist freely in the lands that they called home. But most have crossed land and sea, and travelled thousands of miles, mainly on foot, to enter a freer, safer world for themselves and their families.  A place that I have, until now, taken for granted as somewhere that I may enter and exit at will.   

Andrew Cowie is a photojournalist for Story Picture Agency living in London, England and has worked across the globe for news outlets and magazines. 

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