Serbia Overrun with 23,000 Immigrants En Route to Western Europe


In the last two weeks, the Balkan nation of Serbia has been flooded with more than 23,000 immigrants crossing into the country from the south, with another 7,000 crossing the border in the past two days alone. This brings the year’s total to about 90,000 immigrants into Serbia.

According to reports from the Belgrade Office of the High Commissioner of the UN for Refugees (UNHCR), in the night between Saturday and Sunday, more than 7,000 immigrants entered Serbia from its southern border with Macedonia, most of them refugees from war zones of Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Thousands more crossed the border on Monday.

The inundation of immigrants has been due in part to the decision by neighboring Macedonia to lift its blockade at the Greek border, permitting thousands of immigrants to travel through its country into Serbia.

Thousands of migrants taking the “Balkan route” into Western Europe arrive into the impoverished district of Preshevo in southern Serbia near Kosovo, while others wind up in Kanjiza in northern Serbia, next to Hungary.

Most are using Serbia as a point of entry into western Europe. A small portion seek asylum in Serbia, while the majority of them continue the journey north to Hungary and from there on to Germany, Austria, and other EU countries of northern Europe. Entering Hungary, however, has become increasingly difficult after the government of Viktor Orban decided to erect a metal barrier all along the 175 km border with Serbia.

Belgrade authorities have mobilized four first aid stations to provide aid for refugees, with two in the south (Presevo and Miratovac) and two to the north, at the border with Hungary (Kanijia and Subotica).

The governments of Serbia and Macedonia—two countries that are not part of the European Union—said they are counting on further EU aid.

Serbian Defence Minister Bratislav Gasic, visiting a migrant reception centre on Serbia’s southern border with Macedonia, said more than 5,000 people had entered overnight as Macedonia moved them through.

Long lines formed as migrants from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia waited over the weekend for papers to legalize their transit north through Serbia, before they cross by foot into Hungary and Europe’s borderless Schengen zone.

Many slept in the open on the Greek-Macedonian border with little access to food or water.

“We expect the wave in the next day or two to be of a similar intensity,” Mr. Gasic said, according to the Serbian state news agency, Tanjug.

“Police are working in three shifts, papers are being issued around the clock,” he said.

Meanwhile, another 2,500 Syrian refugees arrived into Athens on Monday, from the island of Mytilene. Last Sunday, another 2,466 refugees were ferried to the capital from Kos, Kalymnos, Leros, and Samos.

The corpse of a man was recovered by a patrol boat of the Greek Coast Guard Monday after a boat carrying 15 migrants capsized during the night in the stretch of sea off Mytilene, the capital of the island of Lesbos, according to reports from the online edition of Kathimerini. So far, eight others have been rescued from the shipwreck, while another six are still missing. Search and rescue operations by units of the Coast Guard and Frontex have continued throughout Monday.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.