TOKYO-2017 Editorial / General News

Frozen Hopes

  • Prize
    Bronze in Editorial/General News
  • Photographer
    Konstantinos Tsakalidis

Belgrade, Serbia on January 2017. According to UNHCR, 7,300 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are stranded in Serbia. More than 6,200 of them have found shelter in government facilities in the Serbian territory, while the rest live in harsh conditions in the streets of Belgrade. Despite the European Union and Turkey deal on the reduction of refugee flows to the Greek islands, as well as the official closure of several borders in the Balkans, the Balkan route to Central and Northern Europe remains active. Thousands of those are trapped in Bulgaria, FYROM and Serbia, affected by the tightening of EU security policies and have been forced to rest their hopes in the smuggling networks. Just a few meters from the Republic Square in the city center of Belgrade, the last four months, almost four hundred males from Afghanistan and Pakistan, 30% of which are unaccompanied minors, have been trying to protect themselves from the freezing temperatures, finding shelter in abandoned warehouses next to the Belgrade central railway station. Lacking the basic infrastructure in water and heating and faced with miserable and inhuman conditions, they are trying to survive on minimum benefits. Entering the abandoned warehouse where they stay, you are faced with a fuggy and unhealthy atmosphere, as a result of makeshift camp fires that they light up to confront the polar temperatures, which reached -15°C in mid-January. In the exterior, big ex-fuel barrels are used to heat water in order to wash rudimentarily their bodies and clothes. Without government assistance, the only meal every day is for most of them, a dish of warm soup offered by the international volunteer group «Hot Food Idomeni», forcing them to line up in the snow, a scene that takes you back to the WWII. Some of the migrants not being able to deal with the very low temperatures of January, were persuaded to be transferred to government emergency shelters. But most of them prefer to remain back in the abandoned warehouses for fear of being deported to Bulgaria and FYROM, and keep their hope for continuing their journey to central Europe. “We crossed the Hungarian borders near Subotica with other 30 people from a hole in the fence, but after a lot of running the Hungarian border police caught us and pushed us back in Serbia,” said 22-year-old Pakistani Umar Han. “We were beaten by the police officers and also attacked by the police dogs” he added as showing the scratches on his face. Like many others here, Umar Han said he would keep trying to cross the Hungarian or Croatian borders to reach his dream for a new life in central Europe.