MIGRANTS’ PLIGHT IN FROZEN BELGRADE

Paulo Nunes Dos Santos

Belgrade, Serbia. January 2016. Hundreds of migrants found themselves stuck in freezing conditions behind the central railway station in Belgrade, Serbia, surviving on one meal a day. Many of the estimated 1,000 migrants are escaping instability in Afghanistan, where a worsening war with the Taliban has sent record numbers of people fleeing their homes. Some others have come from neighbouring mountain areas in Pakistan, which are also threatened by the Taliban. They have lingered for weeks in legal limbo, unable to move north after European countries along the Balkans closed their borders. Some have been here for several months, exposed to severe winter temperatures that, at times, drop to minus 15 degrees Celsius. The conditions in the warehouses behind the railway station are deplorable. There is no regular access to running water, toilets or showers. The air inside is saturated with the smoke of open fires burning toxic railway sleepers, creating clouds of noxious fumes. The migrants have only the most basic supplies, like food and blankets, distributed by volunteer aid groups. Most sleep on the ground, wrapped in blankets amid piles of rubbish. The sound of coughing echoes constantly through the decaying buildings. Despite the attempts by the Serbian government to move them to an official camp outside the capital city, most refuse to leave fearing incarceration or deportation. The cold, exhaustion and disease of the makeshift camp has forced some to leave the warehouses, even if that could mean the end of their dream of reaching central Europe.

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