The Schengen Curtain
|Tuesday, 22 January 2013 14:54|
Author: Marko Đedović
One year after my Kosovo adventure, I was traveling again for Christmas holidays. This time I came home from Brussels, where I had moved recently. Days of intensive overeating almost left permanent consequences on my body, but luckily, soon came the time to return to my new home.
Before I went to the airport, I stopped by the Copy Centre, since printing is much cheaper in Serbia. There were two more hours till the take-off. Their printer broke down with my papers inside; the only printer with which they could print what I needed. Half an hour later, while waiting for them to repair the machine, I was tapping my foot on the floor and thinking that the day could have started better.
I arrived at the airport one hour before the take-off. I checked-in my backpack, passed the security checks and was the first to step into the airplane, thanks to the bizarre way of boarding the passengers to Wizzair plane in Belgrade.
Two and a half hours later, we landed at Charleroi airport. I was the first one at the passport control.
- Bonjour – I greeted the border policeman and put my passport on the counter. He ignored me for a few seconds, and then looked at me with reproach.
He turned a few pages of my passport.
- Do you have an invitation letter?
He carefully studied the paper stamped in the Ixelles municipality.
- Come with me.
In the back room, chief of the unit and another policeman were sitting at the table. Border policeman approached them and explained my “case”, handing them my passport and the letter from the municipality.
- What’s this? – asked the chief.
I sat outside and wondered why the hell I’d went home for holidays. The small room was soon crowded with people from Serbia, whom the other officers brought in for questioning. An elderly couple entered the room, then left somewhere with a policeman. A few more people came in and out.
- Hey bro’, do you know what this is all about? – a guy asked me.
- Why did you come to Belgium? – the chief asked.
I went back to the waiting room. A few more people came in and out. Finally, a policeman came and told me to come with him. Not towards the exit, but towards elevator, and then into the office of the border police. He ushered me into a small room, separated from the office by a large glass wall and a door with a lock.
Inside was the elderly couple I saw before, both in their seventies, and a woman in her fifties.
I asked the elderly couple why they’d been held.
- They said we didn’t have enough money. If we wanted to stay here for ten days visiting our family, we must have at least 750 euros on us. And we just came to visit our family – said the grandma, her voice trembling – They won’t let us in. They said we had to get the return tickets, or they would deport us.
I listened, blinking, in disbelief.
- Yeees. That woman is haunting me, she's sick! – she continued whispering – And she has complete control over the police, that’s how powerful she is.
The unit chief entered and gave me a paper and pen to sign. The document was entitled "Administrative arrest". It was written there that they had the right to keep me in custody for 24 hours, and that I had the right to receive food, drink etc. I signed and asked what happened next.
- Now we shall send your file to the Ministry. They will make the final decision whether to let you enter or not. I wouldn’t get too optimistic if I were you.
- I cannot breathe – said the grandma, with tears in her eyes – I'm getting no air in this room, I’m suffocating! – she squeezed the grandpa’s hand.
I ran out and asked a policemen to take her out for some fresh air. They did. I asked them why they harassed the old people. They said they didn’t meet all the conditions for entry.
A little while later, the grandma came back. Someone from their family had come, and under the supervision of the police, they bought tickets for them to return on the next flight. After that they released them.
I texted my girlfriend not to expect me soon. The haunted woman asked me to use my phone to call her daughter.
- Kitty, they held me at the border. I didn’t do anything! They don’t want to let me in because I don’t have a credit card with me. What do you mean why am I doing this to you? Well, it’s not my fault, you know as well who did this to me, that crazy bitch, you know she is jealous of me. Kitty, please, talk to them here and explain to them I will stay at your place, and that you have money. I know you cannot get out of work, talk to them and explain.
She gave my phone to the policeman, who then spent ten minutes on it. On my account.
An hour later, the situation of the haunted woman has been resolved, since she bought a ticket for the next flight. They let her go as well. I was alone again.
The chief of the unit entered and gave me more papers to sign. I used the opportunity to ask him a few things.
- Why did you hold that elderly couple?
I used the opportunity to ask him how exactly they calculated the six month period and allowed stays up to ninety days, since there’d been a lot of confusion about it. He sketched something on a sheet of paper, showed me the official manual, and then again drew on paper. Fifteen minutes later, I hoped to have finally understood.
It’d been four hours since I had landed. Policemen brought in a new case. A middle-aged Romanian guy has also been held. I was looking in slight disbelief, since they are part of the EU, so I wondered how come he was also apprehended. A policeman came and warned me to keep an eye my personal belongings, because the Romanian might steal something. To steal my things in front of me, in front of them, while he had been arrested under the suspicion of being a thief? I thought of xenophobia, stereotypes, and above all, human stupidity. The Romanian took his phone and called his wife, who was waiting in front, to tell her that he had been held. A policeman yelled at him for calling her.
A few more hours passed by. The chief of unit came in.
- We got the final answer from the ministry. The final decision is to deport you. I am sorry.
He dialed a number and asked if they could release me to buy myself a ticket for a flight to Bucharest.
- Sofia, Sofia – I added. What on earth would I do in Bucharest, it’s too far…
He hung up.
- You can go to Sofia. There’s a flight tomorrow morning. Do you have a credit card on you to buy the ticket?
I bought my ticket to Sofia and signed a bunch of papers that I will be self-deported.
Shortly after, four members of the transport unit came in. The Romanian was already ready to go.
- Where is my backpack? Do I take it with me?
A few policemen went to get my backpack. Fifteen minutes later, they came back.
- We couldn’t find it.
Fifteen minutes more passed by.
- We still can’t find it. You have to go to the detention centre now, since it’s late. We’ll find your backpack overnight. We’ll do everything within our power.
I went out of the airport and entered straight into a blizzard. The Romanian entered the transport vehicle first. Separated with a double acrylic glass from the rest of the vehicle, we sat there, freezing. The heating couldn’t reach us at the back.
An hour and a half later, we passed through a double-barbed high fence and stopped at the third gate. We got into an elevator, then passed through a few locked doors, and arrived to a reception desk. It was past midnight.
I signed a paper saying I had been detained, that I had the right to a lawyer, and that everything had been explained to me in my “mother tongue” – English.
- And what if I didn’t speak English? – I asked.
I regretted not having pretended that I didn’t speak English, just for fun. They took my personal belongings and took a photo of me.
First they took the Romanian to his room. Then they came for me. The circled corridor had a view of the building complex. There, a courtyard with a basketball court was surrounded by a high fence. Everything was completely white. We passed a few more locked doors.
- How many people are inside?
We came to my room. I entered a room lit by faint green light. Inside there were four empty beds. Then I heard a “clack” sound. Empty walls. In a corner, a table with a couple of chairs, and a big double glass window with alarm inside, with a view of the fenced courtyard.
The door opened again and the ward entered with a bag in his hands.
- Here you have a toothbrush, toothpaste, sheets and everything else you’ll need. We’ll wake you up at 03:30 to transport you back to the airport.
I made my bed and lay down. I felt exhausted. Just as I closed my eyes, or so it felt, someone was waking me up. Next to me, lit by green light, two wards were standing. Through the window, I saw white darkness. For a moment, I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming.
- You have ten minutes, and then we have to go. We’ll be outside.
I brushed my teeth, and then put the comb, toothbrush and liquid soap into my pocket. Souvenirs from the prison.
- I’m ready – I said.
They gave me a sandwich with three slices of bread, with butter, jam and “choco”. So much about good food in prison. Then they took me to the transport vehicle.
An hour and a half later, I came back to the familiar room. A new unit chief was on duty.
- Bonjour. Did you find my backpack?
Then I waited a few more hours till the take-off. Finally, two policemen came for me. We passed through staff corridor and then onto the runway. The Wizzair flight to Sofia was parked in front of us. The policemen took me inside first, before other passengers. They handed my documents in a sealed envelope to the captain. It was addressed to Bulgarian immigration police. Then they left.
Two and a half hours later we landed in Sofia. Police told me to wait until all passengers went through the security. Then they came to me.
- Hey bro’, what’s this about? – they asked in a language similar to Serbian.
I took a city bus from the airport, and then walked across half the city to find a bus which would take me to the hitchhiking spot. An hour later, I realized that the bus line I was waiting for had been cancelled. I took another one. I asked the bus driver if he was going to the crossroads with the ring road. He lied that he wasn’t. Luckily, I could see it on his face that he lied, so I stayed on the bus.
At the traffic light next to the ring road, five minutes after I arrived there, a truck with Serbian license plates stopped.
- Excuse me. Could you give me a lift to the border?
I crossed the border on foot. A Bulgarian policeman looked at my deportation stamp and asked me what had happened.
- Will you create me problems if I let you go? – he asked.
I reached the Serbian side.
- What was this about? – the Serbian custom officer looked at my deportation stamp.
1) Olja Bećković is a famous political talk show host in Serbia. Go back