GENEVA - The U.N. Children’s Fund said it sees no sign that migrant flows into Europe are slowing down, and said the number of refugees making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea is increasing despite worsening weather conditions.
Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF refugee and migrant crisis chief in Europe, spent a week tracking the migrant flow along the so-called Balkan route.
Poirier said she followed the migrants as they moved from the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, at the border with Greece, to Serbia and Croatia.
She described the journey as utterly exhausting and fearful, especially for the children, adding people along the route told her they were risking their lives in choppy seas to come to Europe because smugglers' prices had been reduced.
“It looked like smugglers, because of rough weather and possibly more difficulties, are giving a discount to anybody so as to keep the numbers up," Poirier said.
Smugglers' prices fall
Prices reportedly have fallen from a high of $5,000 to a little over $1,000 for a family. As a consequence of these bargain rates, the migrant flows to Europe appears to be unstoppable — at least for now.
Macedonian authorities said the number of people they have registered in October is double that of September. Poirier added there also has been an increase in the proportion of women and children among the population on the move.
“We were talking of one-third. The data for October as registered by the authorities in Gevgelija (Macedonia) is 44 percent. In September, it was 36. ... We are also tracking the number of children. … In June, if we go back, one of 10 of the people registered was a child. The data for October is one in three," she said.
Poirier called the migration a crisis for children. She noted 190,000 children — 700 children every day -- have sought asylum in Europe so far this year.
She said there are signs new routes to Europe are emerging. She said an increasing number of people in Turkey are not going across the water. Instead, they are going through Istanbul on the land road to Bulgaria.
But, Poirier warned migrants are unlikely to receive a warm welcome there. She said migrants reportedly are being put in detention and the Bulgarian police are taking a harsh position.