Monday

16th Jul 2018

Cold weather, new laws, harden EU refugee trail

  • Harmanii refugee camp in Bulgaria, near Turkish border (Photo: Amnesty International)

Increasingly cold weather in Europe is making the already-perilous journey of thousands of refugees from war-torn Syria and other troubled countries more difficult, as some EU states introduce stricter asylum measures to stem the flow of migrants.

"The refugees are not used to this," said Davor Rako of the UN refugee agency in Serbia, to the AP news agency.

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"They arrive here wearing shorts and no socks, shaking with cold".

Temperatures can drop below freezing in November in the Balkan countries, which many migrants try to cross en-route to the EU.

Aid and medical groups are helping at Serbia's border with Croatia, offering hot soup and tea, food and water. Migrants, some of whom left home when it was still summer, are also being handed raincoats and blankets.

Meanwhile, a deserted military camp in Athens will be used as a temporary shelter for refugees, authorities in Greece said on Wednesday.

But the human tide of more than 500,000 people coming to the EU so far this year shows no sign of decreasing despite the tougher conditions, with more than 87,000 people entering Croatia from Serbia in the past two weeks alone.

Germany recorded more than 200,000 migrants this month, the German newspaper Die Welt quoted government officials as saying.

In September, some 170,000 asylum-seekers were registered, German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere told coalition parties on Wednesday - a big increase compared to August's 105,000 figure.

Bavarian interior minister Joachim Herrmann from the conservative CSU party, put the figure even higher. He estimated that 270,000 people arrived in September.

The number is higher than the whole figure for 2014, when arrivals numbered some 200,000.

"My fellow interior ministers confirm, without exception, that pretty soon we'll hit our limits in terms of accommodation", Herrmann said, highlighting that Bavaria, due to its proximity to Austria and Hungary, is on the front line.

"It's crucial to immediately reduce the migrant pressure on Germany's borders", he said, according to AFP.

For its part, the Al-Jazeera news channel reports that the top two internet searches coming out of Syria are "immigration to Germany" and "asylum in Germany".

After Germany scrapped some of the benefits for migrants on Tuesday, Finland said on Wednesday it has suspended decision-making on asylum claims by Iraqis and Somalis, indicating that some of the asylum requests were not based on persecution or on fleeing war.

The Finnish Immigration Service also said it might tighten guidelines for asylum awards after completing an assessment of the situation in the next couple of weeks.

Around 17,000 asylum seekers reached Finland this year, 69 percent from Iraq and 10 percent from Somalia. The total for last year was 3,600.

While sending refugees and migrants arriving from Croatia to Austria, Hungary is also making use of tough new laws to punish migrants for breaching its razor-wire fence on the border with Serbia.

According to Reuters, in the 10 days since the new legislation took effect, courts ruled in 176 cases, sentencing migrants mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq to expulsion from Hungary back to Serbia.

Nobody has been acquitted and only 10 cases were appealed.

Croatia-Serbia border tensions escalate

Serbia has banned imports from Croatia after Croatia closed its border to Serbian cargo traffic, in escalating tension over the migrant influx.

Opinion

Fate of EU refugee deal hangs in the balance

Europe's choice is between unplanned, reactive, fragmented, ineffective migration policy and planned, regulated, documented movements of people, writes International Rescue Committee chief David Miliband.

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