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 are coming also from neighbouring mountain areas in Pakistan, where the Taliban threat is also present.

They have lingered for weeks in legal limbo, unable to move north after European countries along the Balkans close their borders. Some have been here for several months, exposed to severe winter temperatures that, at times, drops to minus 15 degrees Celsius.

At the warehouses the conditions are deplorable. There is no regular access to running water, toilets and showers. The air inside is saturated with the smoke from 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 and rubbish waste piles by the minute all around them. 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, the majority refuses to leave fearing incarceration or deportation.

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