Migrants abandoned in Belgrade winter

The German press has been extensively covering the situation with the refugees and migrants in the Balkan countries, particularly in Serbia (Belgrade) where refugees are left to their own devices, and are sleeping in abandoned warehouses close to the central bus station, in the temperature of -20°C.

Bild magazine visited “the forgotten, snowed in refugees” in Belgrade. Reporter Paul Ronzheimer visited the people who had decided to spend the winter in the heart of the Serbian capital city, close to the central bus station where several thousand refugees have found their home in abandoned warehouses. At night, the temperature falls down to -20°C. A 16-year-old boy from Afghanistan is looking for some wood to burn: “Without fire, we would all freeze to death. We have been forgotten. We are not interesting to Europe.” This young man came to Serbia four months ago. He paid 5,000 Euros to flee Afghanistan via Iran, Turkey, and Greece. When he reached Serbia, he ran out of money and stayed here. His goal is to reach France where his brothers live.

“Serbian authorities are not taking care of the refugees that are staying here and keep point to the camps they have set up. But the camps are full and they are not taking anyone else anymore.”, he says. The Balkan route is officially closed. Still, despite these horrendous conditions, new refugees are still arriving, mostly from the direction of Bulgaria. The young man from Afghanistan says that the Balkan route is closed only to those people who have no money to pay to human traffickers. Some refugees are so desperate that they would even resort to prostitution in order to be able to pay to the traffickers to continue on their journey – the boy says.

The German daily Die Welt has published an article about these refugees titled “They are Constantly Shivering”. Their report also visited the refugees in the warehouse behind the Belgrade central bus station. “There is nothing there. No regular meals, no running water, no accommodation worthy of a human being.  I won’t even go into medical care or hygiene. The nearby warehouses, which were used by the railway company and the customs, are even worse. According to the UNHCR, there are 1,000 people there while people who have been helping these refugees claim that there are at least 1,500. There are many small fires burning in the half-light. Wooden parts of railway trucks are being used for fire. Since these parts have been treated with chemicals, it is almost impossible to bear their toxic fumes”, the Die Welt reporter writes.

“Around noon, a long line of people waiting for a hot meal is formed. The food is being distributed by a foreign humanitarian organization. Today’s meal has no meat. They are eating in the middle of the warehouse, which is cluttered with rubbish and faeces. Those refugees that still have some money buy found at the nearby kiosk. Unlike last summer, there are no women and children here today. The people from Doctors without Borders have brought in several power generators which warm up the air but that doesn’t help much because the indoor temperature is only a degree or two above zero”, the reporter goes on to say.

The Serbian Refugee Commissariat says that the refugee camp in Krnjača, on the outskirts of Belgrade, is almost full but there is still some room left. „The hut that I am staying in is good. It’s brand new. There were several old huts with no showers or hot water, but that has been fixed in the meantime. And there is a hut that is almost completely empty“, says an Afghani migrant, Tamil Azari.

The Commissariat points out that close to 1,000 refugees have chosen to stay at cold, abandoned warehouses over staying at the refugee camp.

“People don’t want to go to camps because they are closed off and you can’t leave them on your own accord. They want to send us to Preševo too, but that is too far. We don’t want that”, Nakeem Vula, a refugee from Afghanistan, explains the reasons why migrants would rather choose to stay out in the cold.

The Commissariat claims that the refugees are scared that, if they registered and applied for political asylum in Serbia, their chances of reaching the desired destination would be thwarted.

“They are refusing to be housed at refugee centres because they are waiting for human traffickers in downtown Belgrade, as well as to receive money via Western Union to continue on their journey”, Ivan Miskovic, from the Refugee Commissariat, says.

Whatever the reasons for their refusal to be moved to a more human accommodation, the Commissariat is not strictly sticking to the rules and procedures in winter.

“Anybody who wants to be housed, will be, regardless of them having papers or not. The bitterly cold winter and the temperatures of -15 degrees compel us not to strictly adhere to the relevant procedures, but rather to provide accommodation and protection for these people”, Mišković adds.

(Deutsche Welle, N1, 10.01.2017)



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