The Miratovac Taxi Problem: Profiteering from Refugees

I've been given the day off so I'm using today's post to describe one of the challenges that you get to see when you spend a few days working in these camps.

It is inevitable that wherever an opportunity to make money exists someone will seize it.

In the town of Miratovac, that opportunity is created by the fact that refugees have to walk about 3km from the camp exit to where the tarmac begins and the buses to Presevo can safely drive. The reason for this walk is that the road to the camp is presently dirt, and the weight of the buses (and the sheer number of them) would make a bad road rapidly impassable, especially in wet weather.

The result? Many townspeople have purchased "Taxi" signs that fit atop their cars and park, in droves, on the dirt road at the opening of the town but around the bend from where the free buses wait. In order to get refugees into their cars drivers engage in tactics that are pretty pushy (including, apparently, lying and saying there are no buses). This is all so they can charge the refugees for a taxi ride to Presevo, which is about 20-30 minutes' drive away. The charges for a group of four can be up to 50 euros! 10 rides in a day - something that's easy to do - net 500 euros; given that the cost of living is so low you can eat a fine dinner in a restaurant for 5 euros you can see the financial appeal.

You would think that the local administration would put a stop to this practice. Unfortunately that has not proven to be the case. The answer, of course, is paving the road; since the camp has only in the last few weeks moved to a new spot that allows it to expand and given it is now winter this will take place, if it does, in spring. As Serbia is not a wealthy country it may or may not happen at all.

Those who work in the Miratovac camp explain to the refugees that the buses are free and are within about 100 meters of the taxis. We reinforce this and make clear the taxis will charge an outrageous amount if they take them - and that these are not really taxis, but profiteering villagers.

Needless to say whenever a group of workers comes through we often get dark looks from the "taxi" drivers who have gotten wind of what we've been telling the refugees. You can imagine how little we are bothered by those dark looks. I'll update this post with some photographs soon.