Sunday

21st Oct 2018

EU-bound migrants in Serbia risk winter exposure

  • Discarded ID papers on Serbia-Hungary border (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

Serbia’s inability to house asylum seekers in the upcoming winter months is causing concern as Hungary scrambles to complete its 175km razor-wire fence on the shared border.

Up to three thousand asylum seekers, many coming from war-torn Syria, are expected to transit through the Western Balkans on a daily basis up until November.

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Vladimir Petronijevic, executive director at the Belgrade-based migration centre Grupa 484, told this website on Wednesday (26 August) the situation risks becoming dramatic.

“We still have no centres, which are ready to accept people in winter”, he said.

“There was an announcement by the Serbian prime minister that one centre will be opened in Belgrade, maybe a few more, but for me it is difficult to assess whether it will be sufficient”.

Few people bother applying for asylum in Serbia. Petronijevic says there are only around 300 to 400 claims.

Instead, the vast majority of those crossing in from Macedonia aim to reach northern European countries like Germany or Sweden.

Hungary may deploy troops

But first they must enter Hungary, a country whose right-wing government has decided to shut down its border.

It recently amended legislation that designates Serbia as a safe third country.

“They can basically very quickly send people who have transited through Serbia back to Serbia”, said Kris Pollet, a senior policy officer at the Brussels-based European Council on Refugees and Exiles.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported Hungarian authorities may send in the army at its southern extremity, along with civilian helicopters, dogs, and mounted police.

“Hungary’s government and national security cabinet ... has discussed the question of how the army could be used to help protect Hungary’s border and the EU’s border”, said government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs.

He said parliament would discuss the issue next week. Similar comments on use of troops were made Tuesday by Czech president Milos Zeman. Bulgaria has already sent military units to Macedonia crossing points.

The number of people slipping under or around the reels of razor-wire coil on the Hungarian-Serb border has increased sharply over the past few days.

Over 2,500 managed to cross from Serbia since the start of the week.

Hungary’s sudden move to step up border security comes amid an announcement by the European Commission, ahead of a conference on the Western Balkans in Vienna on Thursday, it’ll pay €1.5 million in migration aid to Macedonia and Serbia.

Austria’s foreign minister Sebastian Kurz and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in a joint op-ed published Wednesday at the Nezavisne novine daily, said “the region’s stability still rests on shaky foundations, and largely depends on support by the European Union”.

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