Refugees in Cold

Refugees in Cold

Until the EU-Turkey agreement (March, 2016) that states asylum seekers are forbidden from crossing the borders to reach Europe, the Balkans route was the first option for most refugees in their journeys towards Europe. The winter at the Balkans is well-known for the extreme low temperatures. The 3rd of January 2016, Presevo (Serbia) had its first snowfall with hundreds of refugees arriving every day.

The procedures to be able to cross the borders and enter the official transit camps were usually long and tiresome. Refugees had to wait for a long time in front of the fence which separates Greece from Macedonia at what used to be the Idomeni camp. Very often police officers closed the border several times within a day with random criteria. Hundreds of refugees gathered at Idomeni camp for hours with a 2ºC average temperature at night. 

After having crossed Macedonia, all the refugees had to walk a 5 kilometers road with temperatures of -13ºC. Once they arrived to the entrance of the Serbian town of Miratovac, free buses were waiting to take them to the next transit camp, located in Presevo. Before they arrived to the buses and after having crossed the 5 kilometers road carrying their belongings under the snow, taxi drivers were waiting to convince them to take a cab to go to Presevo and pay - at least - 25 Euros per person for a 10 minutes ride. Some refugees accepted because of disinformation; some others because of the fear that police officers would stop the buses stretching on the arrival to their next destination.

Once in Presevo, hundreds of refugees had to wait day after day for the next train in front of the railway. The train took them to Sid, Serbia, a town very close to the Croatian border. Trains were often cancelled because of the bad weather. Schedules usually got modified and refugees had to wait from 5 hours until more than one day in front of the station under the snow and the cold. Young people stayed outside the NGOs' tents located in front of the railway so children and elderly people could stay inside with makeshift heaters.

Only some could make it to the cold Balkan route. Since November 2015 until the EU-Turkey agreement reached in March 2016, only three nationalities were allowed to cross the border into Macedonia: Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis. Police officers registered the documentation of all the refugees once they arrived at the Idomeni camp, in Greece and at the border with Macedonia. When they found people from other nationalities - considered as 'non-political migrants'-, officers took them to a bus which brought them back to Athens. The ones who could not cross the border usually chose between two options. One was to go back to Athens, take another bus to Idomeni and try over and over again to cross the border. The other one was to go to the Hotel Hara, a few kilometers away from the Idomeni camp, and stay there to either try to cross the border again from Idomeni or negotiate with smugglers risking their lives.