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Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

  • Zlatica Hoke

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life.

The Associated Press followed one group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary, a route migrants started using about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

A group of more than 40 men, women and children arrived in Greece earlier this year, after a long and arduous journey from their countries to Turkey.

In Turkey, they paid $500 each for a passage across the sea. Their leader, a man from Ivory Coast, agreed to pilot their overloaded boat to a Greek island in exchange for free passage. He is now leading the group through Macedonia along railway tracks.

Hungarian borders

The group's destination is Hungary, from where migrants can enter Germany, France or some other Western European country without a visa or a passport.

Jean-Paul Apetey, 34, of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, said, "Really, you have to have the courage because there are many obstacles. The journey has many aspects, because Europe is huge. You think you just go to France, but before arriving there you have to walk thousands of ways."

People in this group are from Ivory Coast, Mali, Cameroon and Burkina Faso. The trek through the unknown is fraught with obstacles and danger. But they say the risk is worth it because at the end of the road, there is hope for a new life.

Fidel Castro Chimana, 31, of Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, said, "Most of us, we are from Africa and we have many problems in our continent - bad economics, bad politics, bad work, so you can get a diploma and you don't find work."

Frontex, the European Union agency charged with helping the bloc's countries seal their leaky borders, said more than 43,000 illegal crossings were made via the western Balkans route in 2014, more than double the year before.

In the first two months of this year, there have been 22,000 confirmed arrivals in Hungary by that route.

Hilarion Charlemagne, 45, of Ivory Coast, said, "We know that when we cross the border it's against the law. This we understand. When you enter clandestinely into a country, you feel you are a criminal; the feeling is indescribable."


Travel by night does not guarantee safety. After a chase by flashlight, Macedonian police captured most of the group and deported them back to Greece.

Mirielle Djeukam, 34, of Cameroon, said, "The trip has been very hard, too hard. If I knew it was this difficult, I wouldn't have done it. I just can't walk like this."

One woman from Cameroon was able to keep her baby boy, who was born in Greece.

Another woman from Ivory Coast got separated from her baby daughter, born in Turkey, during the police chase in Macedonia. The child was taken by the handful of people from the group that made it to Serbia.