Numerous citizens of Balkan states are still stuck in Gaza as a ground invasion from Israel looms. The only viable way out, the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, the only land crossing not controlled by Israel, remains closed, as Cairo is wary of spillover of the humanitarian crisis and refugees on its territory.
Before allowing at least a partial opening of this crossing, so that humanitarian aid could go in and foreign nationals be evacuated, Egypt wants a ceasefire established first.
As countries scramble their diplomatic capacities to help their citizens, all most can do is offer advice, alert Tel Aviv, Cairo and authorities in Ramallah of their whereabouts and put them on pending evacuation lists.
Bosnia’s Foreign Ministry said its embassy in Cairo has received requests to evacuate 23 Bosnian citizens and their family members from Gaza.
“Ambassadors and embassy staff in Cairo and Tel Aviv are in constant contact with the relevant authorities of Egypt and Israel, regularly reporting on any changes on the ground to the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sarajevo,” spokesperson Nebosja Regoje told BIRN.
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said some 300 Turkish citizens are trapped in Gaza. “We have evacuated 30 Turkish citizens but nearly 300 Turkish citizens remain. Our work [to evacuate them] continues,” Fidan said on October 14.
The Turkish Consulate in Jerusalem, which is in charge of Gaza and the West Bank, did not respond to BIRN’s questions about how Turkey plans to evacuate its remaining citizens.
Meanwhile, Israel announced on Tuesday that three Turkish citizens were killed by the Hamas attacks.
Romania said that some 350 Romanian nationals are stuck in Gaza, and 240 have requested the help of the country’s authorities to be evacuated. Officials said these people are currently close to the border with Egypt, hoping to eventually cross there.
Meanwhile, four Romanians with dual citizenship have died in the hostilities, and one is reported missing, the authorities reported.
Moldova’s Foreign Ministry said that some 50 Moldovans stranded in Gaza have requested assistance for evacuation, out of an estimated 100-120 Moldovans registered in the area.
The Rafah crossing with Egypt is again mentioned as the best option for escape, but for now Moldova says it is only in contact with its people. “We are ready to assist Moldovan citizens as soon as we receive official notifications from the Egyptian and Israeli authorities regarding opening an evacuation corridor,” the Moldovan ministry said.
Bulgaria’s Vice Premier Maria Gabriel said On Wednesday that 37 Bulgarian citizens and members of their families have sought help to get evacuated and Bulgaria is in contact with embassies in Ramallah, Cairo and Tel Aviv on the matter.
Previously, Palestine’s embassy in Sofia told BIRN that it is unclear how many people with Bulgarian citizenship are in the Gaza Strip. Estimates point to 15 to 20 mixed Bulgarian-Palestian families.
Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov said the government is currently unable to locate and get in contact with all of the people with Bulgarian citizenship there. “Securing a humanitarian corridor is only possible as part of a coordinated international action to bring out the foreigners and then the locals out of there,” Denkov said.
Bulgarian authorities added on Wednesday that there is no confirmation of any Bulgarian citizens being held hostage, after the Wall Street Journal said a Bulgarian citizen was among the foreigners currently held by Hamas.
North Macedonia said it is in contact with two of its citizens, a married couple, stuck in Gaza, and that they are still making efforts to get them home through the Rafah border crossing. Officials said that they are still making efforts to locate if there are more North Macedonian nationals stranded there.
For now, the Foreign Ministry says it maintains contact with its two nationals who are safe for the time being in one of the Red Crescent centres in Gaza, close to the Rafah crossing, and that they have put them on an evacuation list, so that they can leave as soon as the crossing is open.
Albania has not issued a concrete figure for citizens trapped in Gaza but its ambassador to Israel, Meri Kumbe, said that there are some Albanians in Gaza that also have children.
Two cases of citizens with Albanian passports stranded there have been reported, a brother and a sister who both have children. The embassy is in contact with them and are waiting for instructions for evacuation. They can leave Gaza only through Egypt, the ambassador told the media.
Montenegro’s Foreign Ministry told BIRN there are no Montenegrin residents currently in Gaza, as far as they are aware, “neither was there any request to our government for evacuation”.
Croatia’s Foreign Ministry did not reply to BIRN’s questions about citizens trapped in Gaza by time of publication. However, a reporter for the national broadcaster, HRT, Petar Vlahov, who follows the war, on Tuesday said the Croatian Embassy in Tel Aviv had received 23 requests for evacuation from Gaza.
“These are citizens with dual citizenship who live in Gaza,” Vlahov said in his report, adding that the challenge is to try to evacuate these people through Egypt.
Greece was one of the swiftest to evacuate more than 160 of its nationals from Israel, as the war started, but thus far the Greek authorities have not informed of any Greek citizens stranded in Gaza, apart from two Greek Orthodox priests serving in a church who said they won’t be evacuating.
“Our beloved sons Archbishop Alexios and Father Silas wish you and your families well, and they would like to inform you that they will not be travelling abroad,” the Greek Orthodox Church posted on social media this week.
Serbia’s Foreign Ministry did not reply to BIRN by time of publication on whether and how many of its nationals may be stranded in Gaza. The Israeli embassy in Serbia confirmed only that one Serbian national, Alon Ohel, was taken hostage by Hamas during its initial attack on Israel.
Kosovo has evacuated two of its citizens from Israel, but the Foreign Ministry did not respond to BIRN’s questions about the possible number of stranded citizens in the Gaza Strip.