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Refugees, Migrants Face Long Border Waits, Cold Weather In The Balkans

Migrants and refugees prepare to board a train heading to Serbia from the Greece-Macedonia border near Gevgelija on October 31, 2015. (Nikolay Doychinov/ AFP/Getty Images)
Migrants and refugees prepare to board a train heading to Serbia from the Greece-Macedonia border near Gevgelija on October 31, 2015. (Nikolay Doychinov/ AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands of refugees are flooding across borders in southeastern Europe by foot, bus and train, nearly all of them trying to make their way to Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and other northern European countries.

Despite the impending winter, the number of people making the journey does not appear to be slowing down.

Sian Jones, a Balkans researcher with Amnesty International, joins Here & Now’s Peter O’Dowd to describe the conditions that refugees and migrants are facing at the borders of Serbia and Macedonia, and Serbia and Croatia.

Interview Highlights: Sian Jones

On what the border crossings look like

“There are hundreds of thousands of people walking, taking vehicles, on trains and on buses, moving from Greece, trying to get refugee status in EU member states. And they are traveling through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia on their way to the EU. And what struck me as well was their determination and their fortitude to keep going in the most difficult conditions.”

“The problem is that so many people are coming at any one time that in order to queue up and get papers which will legally entitle them to travel through Serbia, people are having to wait for up to five hours at a time in the middle of the main street of a town called Preševo. And people have no protection from the rain, from the wind, from the weather. And they sit on the ground, on those streets waiting their turn to go get the documentation that they need.”

On whether refugees and border countries are prepared for the winter

“Many people aren’t prepared at all, mainly because they’ve come from Turkey on very tiny, little boats to the Greek islands and made their journey from there. And very many people lose many of their possessions whilst they are coming. And physically, they are not able to carry things. If you think of a family with two or three children, most of their effort has to go into looking after the children, keeping them, and we saw more women and children than we’ve seen in our previous visits.”

“But essentially what is needed is for the governments in those countries to provide shelter because winter is coming. And it’s all very well to have additional socks and hats, but when the temperature goes down below zero, you really are not going to be able to sit out in the street waiting for five hours to get to register your family, to be able to continue on your journey.”

On protections for unaccompanied children

“So many children — at least 60 children — are found to have lost their parents in any one day. And UNHCR are doing their best, along with other organizations, to make sure that the families are traced. But the conditions are such that there are so many people — it’s so crowded — there are so many people pushing to get across the border, that there is a real concern for children who have lost their families, and also for children who are travelling alone, who’ve become separated from their parents, or for some reason, are traveling by themselves. And there are real concerns that there’s not adequate protection or identification of those children.”


  • Sian Jones, Balkans researcher with Amnesty International. She tweets @SianJonesAI.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.