Migrants And Refugees Battle Cold In Serbia And Hungary
Around 1,500 migrants and refugees from Asia and the Middle East found sheltering in abandoned warehouses in Belgrade in order to survive a cold snap which on Monday (January 9) brought night-time temperatures to below -20C in the region.
Hundreds of men, mainly Afghans, slept on concrete floors, burning plastic garbage to keep warm which gave off choking black smoke.
They are among 7,000 stranded in Serbia. Refugee camps are packed and only women and children are likely to be let in, leaving the men to seek shelter where they can - in abandoned warehouses in central Belgrade or the fields just south of the border.
"Actually the cold is too much and last night we didn't sleep, we (were) all sitting around the fire and it was too cold, I think it was minus 16, 15 (Celsius) last night," said Amin Jahn, from Pakistan.
"Try to arrange something for us and try to open the border. It's our request," he added.
Authorities say most of Serbia's estimated 7,000 migrants and refugees are from Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria.
Dozens of Asian, Afghan and Pakistani migrants and refugees, some with children, are camping out in makeshift tents on Serbia's northern border, waiting for their turn to try to enter Hungary.
Hungary registered 30,000 asylum applications last year, according to the government, of which fewer than half were accepted. In addition, nearly 20,000 gave up on the official process and tried to enter illegally.
In some ways, those in the tents are the lucky ones - those who are near the front of an unofficial refugee-administered queue to submit an asylum application at one of only two recognized crossing points - Horgos and Tompa.
But in the current, brutal cold snap, they pay a high price.
Their rickety teepees, lined with blankets, are heated only with campfire embers brought inside at nightfall. Many of the children who crawl outside at first light are wearing only thin sweaters and slippers.
All this to be one of the lucky few allowed to submit a Hungarian asylum application in tiny container offices set up for the purpose at Horgos and Tompa, in the hope of then being admitted to a Transit Zone, and eventually becoming one of the 10 refugees a day allowed to enter Hungary from each post.
"People are suffering too much and they have a lot of respiratory infections," said Milana Radosavljevic, a physician from Doctors Without Borders.
Hungary has made clear that it does not welcome migrants and refugees; Prime Minister Viktor Orban has fortified the border, an external frontier of the European Union, with a razor wire fence, and thousands of police and soldiers patrol the area with heat-sensitive cameras and helicopters.