Toronto Star, March 2022
As thousands of Ukrainian refugees crossed into Hungary, Zaid Faisal Hotak, a victim of a different war, was planning his 18th attempt to reach the same country. The 22-year-old from Laghman province, Afghanistan, is one of a few dozen young Afghans living at a railway station in Sombor, a small town on the northwest edge of Serbia near the borders of European Union countries Hungary and Croatia. Every few days, they pack small bags and load up on Monster energy drinks so they can stay awake all night as they try once more to cross the EU’s razor-wire border. They said they know that if they make it across, they’ll likely be detained and beaten before being sent back to try again.
These young men are just a few of the thousands stranded at Europe’s borders, with no legal pathway to asylum. Like Ukrainians, many are fleeing war—most are from Afghanistan, but others have travelled from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, all hoping to reach safety. A few days earlier at another crossing into Hungary, trainloads of Ukrainians arrived at Zahony station, welcomed by volunteers offering hot food, translation and medical help.
Oksana and her mother, Alina, who would only give their first names, had just finished a hellish three-day drive, fleeing as Russian troops advanced closer to their home in Dnipro, Ukraine. They caught a ride to Vienna with Gerhard Olz, an Austrian who’d already made the 12-hour round trip once with a car full of refugees and was back to pick up more.