Sanitation woes, disease fears at Hungary camp

Hungarian soldiers at the border crossing next to Serbia near Roszke. Looming over the refugee camp there is the fear of what will happen when the Hungarian government shuts the border completely as planned tomorrow.
Hungarian soldiers at the border crossing next to Serbia near Roszke. Looming over the refugee camp there is the fear of what will happen when the Hungarian government shuts the border completely as planned tomorrow.PHOTO: REUTERS

ROSZKE (Hungary) • Medical workers at the Hungarian border have warned of desperate conditions for pregnant women and the risk of disease spreading at the under-equipped camp where thousands of refugees are streaming in daily. A huge outpouring of sympathy from across Europe has brought dozens of vehicles loaded with aid supplies from Britain, Austria, Germany and elsewhere to the filthy camp in the border town of Roszke.

While blankets, clothes and food pile up around the muddy fields, doctors are worried about the lack of sanitation and medical supplies.

"When you have no running water, no way to clean and people are arriving with contagious diseases, you have a problem," said Ms Teresa Sancristobal, head of the Doctors Without Borders site team.

A priority for the doctors on site is pregnant women, many of whom have walked for weeks from war zones in the Middle East.

"We have a lot of pregnant women who are just exhausted and can't take it anymore," said Ms Sarah Schober, 28, a medical student leading a volunteer team from Vienna.

"All we have to give them are magnesium and small doses of schnapps for the cramps, and there are very few field beds for them to rest on."

Exhaustion and dehydration are common. One volunteer found a 12-year-old girl who walked several kilometres with a damaged knee after being hit by a taxi in Serbia.

An over-stretched United Nations refugee agency has arranged for more toilets and clean-up operations, but faces big challenges as government buses are slow to move refugees on to registration centres, leaving thousands to sleep in the fields every night.

People are relieving themselves between tents. "With the warmer weather, we are one step away from an epidemic," said Ms Schober.

Volunteers have struggled to find storage for all the clothes donated, many of which have ended up strewn around the squalid site.

"We had a 22-tonne truck show up unannounced yesterday," said British volunteer Mark Wade. "That's great but we don't know what to do with it."

And looming over everything is the fear of what will happen tomorrow, when the Hungarian government says it will shut the border completely and arrest anyone who tries to break through.

"We are doing all this planning, but it could all be for nothing come Tuesday," said one charity worker.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2015, with the headline 'Sanitation woes, disease fears at Hungary camp'. Print Edition | Subscribe