At least three refugees have frozen to death in Bulgaria. And the situation is getting worse for thousands on the run from war, persecution and misery as it remains freezing all over the Balkans. This is mainly owed to authorities in Bulgaria and Serbia.
Bulgarian and Serbian authorities alike have tried for a year or so to deter refugees from entering their countries and to drive them out by making living as unbearable for them as possible.
Across the region there aren’t nearly enough refugee shelters. In Serbia alone there is only around 6.000 beds for an estimated 7.000 refugees in the country. Roughly a thousand have squatted in abandoned warehouses for the past few weeks. A recent report even puts that number at 2.000.
With temperatures below the freezing point for days, even those makeshift shelters do not provide adequate protection against the cold.
Andrea Contenta, Humanitarian Affairs Adviser, for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) heavily critizes the Serbian government in an interview with ITV: „It is cold every year in Serbia“ and it was a lack of long-term planning and political will that was putting these people at risk.
Harsh criticism also comes from organizations such as Human Rights Watch.
There are fears that even more refugees may freeze to death than the three reported from Bulgaria.
While NGOs do their best to make up for their governments‘ neglect and outright hostile treatment of refugees, the stance of authorities towards asylum seekers can hardly be seen as isolated.
Outright Hatred Against Refugees
Large parts of the population of countries along the Balkan route applaud attemps to deter people seeking help from entering the country and measures to keep them as miserable as possible while they’re there.
The attack on Iraqi refugees in Zagreb, Croatia, is just one of many examples hate- and fear mongering against asylum seekers have created over the past months.
An everyday example has been reported to this blog by a Serbian woman. She witnessed a group of refugees being kicked out of a Beograd kafana otherwise dedicated to socialist nostalgia. „They (the owners of the kafana) do not deserve to use socialist symbols“, the woman wrote on Facebook.
Balkan Stories has not been able to confirm the incident.
From Bulgaria there are reports of police brutality and torture against asylum seekers.
It Started Up North
That the situation in Bulgaria, Serbia and Croatia has deteriorated so far also is the fault of the governments of those countries most refugees seek asylum at.
The Balkan route has been all but shut down at the request of the Austrian government, with the tacit approval of the German government. Denmark has actively kept asylum seekers from entering the country – each of these countries passing on the pressure of groups of refugees on its borders to the one a bit further south on the route.
Like in a game of Domino, this has left countries along the Balkan route with the choice of trying to take care of tens of thousands of refugees itself – with no prospect of adequate assistance from any EU country – or to close its own borders.
The result we see in this video clip above.
Title photo: (c) Marko Drobnjaković/Medecins sans Frontieres.