RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Author)
SOMBOR, Serbia -- For providing migrants with a place to sleep at his hostel in Sombor in northwestern Serbia, Sinisa Sevo has been labeled a traitor by Serbian right-wing extremists and targeted with death threats on social media.
His photo and those of five others, plus personal data, were included on posters that were plastered across the city of some 80,000 by the far-right group People’s Patrol, which accused the six of profiting by illegally providing accommodation to migrants.
“This is a small town. And when someone labels you like that, it matters,” Sevo told RFE/RL’s Balkan Service.
Police say they are investigating, but in the meantime, Sevo has been forced to shut down his hostel.
Serbia currently accommodates some 5,000 refugees and migrants, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. The country is on the so-called Balkan route that is used by migrants and refugees escaping conflict, hardship, and persecution.
The number of migrants illegally entering the European Union by crossing the Western Balkans has almost doubled this year, EU border agency Frontex said in August, with the majority coming from Syria and Afghanistan.
In Sombor, not far from the border with EU members Croatia and Hungary, refugees and migrants are housed in a state-run center that is unable to cope with the numbers. Private hostels, like those run by Sevo, have stepped up to fill the gap, something right-wing extremists don’t like. They have marched in Sombor and other Serbian cities over the past year and carried out other actions, including confronting and threatening migrants, fueling fears and prejudices amid an already tense situation, observers say.
People mostly from the Middle East and Asia have stayed at his hostel over the last year, Sino said.
Onslaught Of Hatred
On October 9, posters including the photos and data of those accused by People’s Patrol of profiting from the migrant crisis appeared across Sombor. On social media, the right-wing extremist group spread the same accusations.
"Sombor citizens, these are your neighbors who illegally rent out accommodation to migrants,” the group wrote on its Facebook page, which has more than 43,000 followers.
That triggered an onslaught of hatred, says Sevo.
“There have been comments like, ‘Hang them from trees,’” Sevo recounted.
Others called those targeted “traitors” who "should be expelled from the country with the migrants.”
Sevo said his concerns grew after his wife began to receive threatening messages on social media as well.
“At first, I didn’t take it seriously, but after a while I began to worry, especially about my family,” he said.
On October 12, those singled out on the posters filed a report --including details of the threats they had received on social media -- with police, who said their complaint would be forwarded to local prosecutors.
“Now we are waiting to see whether the prosecutors will take action,” Sevo said.
The Serbian Interior Ministry confirmed to RFE/RL that such a report had been received by police in Sombor and that it would be forwarded to the prosecutor’s office for “further proceedings.”
A day after the posters appeared, People’s Patrol organized a demonstration, with chants of “We don’t want migrants” heard as a few dozen protesters marched through the streets of Sombor.
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