I would advise politicians to come to visit the camp in Gevgelija and talk to the refugees.”

RevolucionerMk: Thousands of migrants have crossed Macedonia, and they are still going through this ordeal, left prey of robbers that make even more difficult the refugee plight. We saw them walking in the woods, along the highway or on railway tracks. Ten people died on the railway route and the country had yet to realise  the extent of the problem in order to finally take institutional measures and establish some order.

Mrs. Smailovik, what is the situation in detention centres and what are the services they offer to migrants?

Smailovikj: The situation before June 19th (before the amendments) was really desperate. Thousands of refugees were forced to walk along unsafe roads and paths, completely unprotected. They were frequently a target for criminal groups that reigned in Macedonia. At the moment we have a reception centre for migrants in Gevgelija, a reception centre for asylum seekers in Vizbegovo, a Center for Foreigners in Gazi Baba and the camp in Tabanovce. Apart from the first reception centre, the others are almost empty, while the camp in Gevgelija is visited every day by more than 5,000 refugees. Conditions are not good: there has been no running water or electricity for the past two days, and there are still no  toilets. The only positive thing is the NGO sector, which selflessly helps and is active 24/7.

R. Mk: Let’s talk about the enormous increase in the price of train tickets, a surcharge applied only to migrants. We are witnessing taxi drivers arguing among themselves on who will get to transport migrants, and if I'm not wrong, they have to pay 3 Euros for charging their mobile phones. How do you react to these, I would say ,’profiteers’? Are you upset seeing all these inhumane things, when compared to the only person who publicly, from the very beginning, provided relief to migrants the lady from Veles, Lence Zdravkin?

S.: All means of transport are more expensive now for refugees. This is a pure act of discrimination and represents a unique example of an organised system for refugee profiteering. It is a shame for the country. Rather than providing free transport for people who are desperate and who are fleeing their homes, the state decided to increase travel fare of 200%. Conditions on trains are terrible: the carriages are dirty and old and the ticket that used to cost 5 Euro now costs 25.

For what concerns prices increased by the locals, this is a clear sign of poverty, these people think they can profit from other peoples’ misfortunes. Their gain doesn’t bother me so much as the profit the state makes from refugees.

R. Mk: As a prominent civic activist, how would you evaluate the reaction of the country to the refugee crisis?

S.: The state failed to face the refugee crisis with proper support. 28 innocent people lost their lives on the roads around the country. The refugees were physically attacked, as the reception centre in Gazi Baba testifies, the mistreatment of refugees was appalling. Regarding the amendments to the Law, the State again failed. For months refugees camped in the train station, under terrible conditions. Our government didn’t care for refugees or even for local people, who, as a consequence, developed a worrying degree of xenophobia! The state relied fully on NGOs, although these were not at all taken into consideration when the anti-crisis measures were taken.

R. Mk: What do you think of the erection of walls and fences at borders, especially in Hungary? And what do you think about the unfortunate statement of the Macedonian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Popovski, who said that Macedonia will erect a fence on the southern border?

S.: I’m trying to understand what Hungary and Macedonia have in common, except that refugees choose to cross them both to reach their destination, and yet the only thing these countries do is building fences. I believe that Minister Popovski’s statement is more influenced by what Hungary does, than by the actual situation. I’d like to invite him to Gevgelija to talk to refugees, who have a high education level, and I invite him to try to understand their need to leave Macedonia immediately. For these reason we believe that fences are completely unnecessary.

R. Mk: Do you have any plans or solutions for the refugees crossing the country?

S.: We don’t and neither does the European Union. We can only prepare ourselves to the upcoming winter. We’re doing our best to find blankets, raincoats, winter clothes. We’re doing everything that falls under the ‘humanitarian assistance’ category and within the activities of our organisation.

R. Mk: You were one of the few Macedonian activists fighting for the liberation of Gaza and a persistent fighter for the emancipation of Muslim women. From your perspective, which are your information about the situation in Syria?

S.: We always try to be on the side of those who are more oppressed, whose fundamental rights are trampled and denied. Whether it is in Gaza or in Burma. The duty of every free citizen is to fight against the injustice going on in this ‘Global Village’.

Given that representatives of our organisation were working in refugee camps along the border between Turkey and Syria, we can say that the conflict is far from ending. There is no interest on the part of world powers to put an end to it. On the contrary, we have witnessed the reinforcement of Assad’s army, which carries out brutal crimes against Syrian people.

R. Mk: How to interpret the increasingly strong voices who feel threatened by this great movement of people, as well as the belief of certain analysts who see thisI as an ongoing Islamization of Europe?

S.: Syrians were never people who migrated. There were very few Syrian immigrants, in the rest of the world, before the crisis. Syria is a rich nation, with a rich history. When the war started, people  desperately fled their home, leaving everything behind. It suffices to speak with them to understand the sorrow they feel for having to leave their homeland. The large number of people who didn’t make it to Europe is a clear sign of their desperate position. This migration is actually an exodus, a sort of ethnic cleansing.

R. Mk: How does foreign public opinion react to the attitude of Macedonia towards refugees?

S.: Unfortunately the entire  European continent is involved in this crisis. Major EU countries need a strategy and a common position on the matter. They all say that everyone should welcome the refugees, but not one of them condemns Hungary's fascist behaviour and rhetoric.

R. Mk: Do you have a message for politicians and for the Macedonian community, about refugees?

S.: Macedonian people are hospitable people, people who know what it means to be a refugee from the crisis of Aegean Macedonia and the recent crisis in Kosovo. I’d only like to ask them to keep being human, as they were in the past. Refugees are just desperate people who, more than any other, need your smile and warm welcome. I would also like to thank them for the humanity shown so far, I am proud of Macedonian people for the support received in these four intense months.

I would advise politicians to come to visit the camp in Gevgelija and talk to the refugees.