“We were packed like sardines in a van, but our good luck saved us from imminent death when a police trap stopped the van," Mahmoud al-Maghribi explained, recounting his journey between Greece and Serbia.
The Palestinian refugee from Yarmouk camp described his experience, which resembles the shocking story of the death of more than 70 refugees who suffocated in a refrigerated van at the border between Austria and Germany.
The difficult to reach Macedonian borders were less known only months ago, as the immigrants were forced to walk for days through forests and treacherous routes to reach the capital, Skopje, according to Maghribi.
When local police caught Maghribi and the rest of the group, they returned them to the original point of departure, but they were determined to reach their goal and try again. He explained that the group was afraid of using smugglers because of the risk of being caught by police and sent to “Gazi Baba” prison, where they would spend many months before being charged as witnesses to a smuggler or driver.
"Fate led us to the village of Viksinja in Macedonia, then we continued to Serbia where we were supposed to take a van to drive them to Belgrade. It was January and the last day of the snowstorm when we walked for 14 hours in snow,” Maghribi explained.
According to Mahmoud, he was one of 40 young men aiming to reach safety under the direction of their two guides, a Pakistani and an Afghani, who looked as if they were on drugs.
When they reached the van, it was small with no seats inside, but they packed almost 40 people inside on its way to Belgrade, paying €400 each, but minutes after departing, those inside started to suffer from a lack of air, as the drivers and guides demanding them to hold on and be patient.
“However 10 minutes later, a police trap stopped the van, the driver ran away and we felt free and breathed fresh air, and we felt lucky for the trap because it saved us from imminent death, either from the lack of air inside the van, or because of the bad flooring that started cracking when we got off it as a result of heavy weight. Later, we were taken to prison where [we] were given water and allowed to eat their food, [our] fingerprints and photos were taken,” Maghribi detailed.
Following processing, 34 of the migrants were transferred to Macedonia’s borders, while Maghribi and five others were taken to prison in Verana.