"We are no longer alone"

Article, 24.11.2015

Thousands of refugees have been travelling to and transiting through Slovenia every day since September 2015. Since the beginning of November the country’s civil protection authorities have been benefiting from Swiss Humanitarian Aid’s experience in setting up suitably equipped refugee camps. For Stanislav Lotric, Switzerland’s support is important – also as a symbol of solidarity.

© SDC
Stanislav Lotrič (right) talking to the Swiss team leader Simon Tschurr. © SDC

Interview with Stanislav Lotrič, head of operations with the Slovenian civil protection authorities.

How long has your work involved you in the refugee crisis? 

From the very beginning, since early September. The first few days were very difficult, as we were not prepared for so many refugees. We knew that refugees would come to Slovenia, as Hungary had spent several months building a fence, but we hadn't reckoned with so many. On some days around 11,000 people were entering our country.

 

When did you realise that Slovenia was not able to cope with this crisis alone and needed the help of other countries, for instance Switzerland? 

When we saw how many people were coming each day, we soon realised that we would run out of resources at some point. That is why we asked the EU for support. We also asked other countries directly for help, for instance Switzerland, Hungary, Austria, France, Spain and the Czech Republic.

 

Is the experience of Switzerland and the other countries helping you cope with this crisis? 

It is extremely useful, as we hear a range of opinions and see things from different viewpoints. For example, the experts from Switzerland have far more experience in setting up a camp or accommodation centre to good effect. It is not something we do every day, and Slovenia has relatively little experience with the religious and cultural mores of migrants from the Middle East. Of course, we have dealt with refugees before, e.g. from Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Balkan wars, but that was quite different. The people who came to Slovenia then had relatives here, and there were very few cultural differences. So we weren't confronted with a totally different culture, as we are now. Switzerland's experience is very useful.

 

Is it important for you to know that you can count on support? 

Of course, the crisis is not just our problem, it is one that the whole of Europe faces. We are a transit country and we are doing our best to ensure that the people can preserve their dignity. But it is good to know that there are other countries here to support us. We no longer feel we are having to cope on our own, and are very grateful for the support.

 

Have you had time to even draw breath since the beginning of the crisis? 

Occasionally, but we are still in crisis mode here. I've been with the civil protection authorities for twelve years now. We've had to deal with crises before, for example the devastating freezing rain we had in February 2014, or flooding. But when that kind of crisis or disaster occurs, we always know it will be over after a while. The current situation is somewhat different. We can't see any light at the end of the tunnel. People are coming from Greece, and they are coming every day. That is what makes it so different from a natural disaster situation.

 

And how do you, personally, cope with the situation?

I try to do my best – I do what I can. At the moment that's OK. We'll see what the future brings.