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Migrants at Risk of Dying as Cold Blankets Southeast Europe

  • Henry Ridgwell

As the extreme weather grips southeast Europe, thousands of migrants are sleeping in empty warehouses or abandoned buildings that provide shelter from the driving snow, but inside the temperatures are well below freezing.

“I have not seen this kind of place in my dreams. This situation is too much bad and the weather is too much cold,” said asylum seeker Muhammad Yusuf Navid, who added that it is so cold he finds it impossible to sleep.

The Serbian government has urged all migrants to move to official camps. But aid groups say they are full.

Frostbite and death

The aid group Doctors Without Borders says many migrants have died from the cold. The group’s head of mission in Serbia, Stephane Moissaing, told VOA via Skype they are treating a range of health problems, including respiratory infections, an outbreak of scabies and body lice.

“In addition to that,” Moissaing said, “for the new arrivals who cross the border from Bulgaria mainly, we have in the last few days several cases of frostbite.”

About 100 migrants a day continue to arrive in Serbia, despite Hungary’s efforts to cut off the Balkan route by constructing border fences along the shared border.

Many come from Greece, where tens of thousands migrants remain stranded.

Facing international criticism over conditions in the camps, authorities have moved hundreds of migrants into empty hotel rooms under a U.N.-sponsored program. A navy ship docked Wednesday at Lesbos Island to house 500 migrants during the cold weather.

European problem

Aid agencies have criticized the European Union for failing to help the stranded migrants. Speaking Wednesday in Malta, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for member states to implement the EU relocation plan.

“The problem of refugees cannot be left to Greece, to Italy, to Malta,” Junckker said. “It is a European problem and we need a European response of solidarity.”

Meanwhile, Germany reported a sharp fall in the number of asylum seekers entering in 2016 to 280,000 people, compared with 890,000 the previous year.

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