Refugees stranded in freezing Serbia

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Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reports that more than 7500 refugees and migrants are currently stranded in Serbia, where freezing conditions are making their journey to a better life that much more difficult to complete.

The authorities at MSF say the camps they are living in are overcrowded, informal settlements – hardly making it any easier to fight away the cold.

They say the migrants are stranded because of European migration policies, which have shut them out.

“The country (Serbia) has agreed with the EU to host up to 6,000 people, of whom only 3,140 live in facilities adapted to winter. In Belgrade, around 2,000 young people, mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria are currently sleeping in abandoned buildings in the city centre, whilst temperatures plummet to as low as minus 20,” said Stephane Moissaing, MSF’s Head of Mission in Serbia.

“In recent months, Serbian authorities have severely restricted the provision of humanitarian assistance to these people, only tolerating volunteers doing a basic distribution of blankets and food.

“For months, the strategy has been to block humanitarian aid to push these people into official camps. But the camps are full and already stretched beyond their capacities, so today migrants are left with no option other than to sleep in abandoned, open buildings in freezing temperatures,” added Moissaing.

Emergency space heaters have been shipped in to help mitigate the cruel conditions, while negotiations to get more assistance of this nature continue.

MSF does feel these migrants have been failed though, given that local authorities were quite aware of just how severe it would be for them.

“For months we have called on EU, UNHCR and Serbian authorities to put in place long-term solutions to avoid this catastrophic situation. The collective failure of these institutions has left even the most basic needs uncovered, exposing already vulnerable people to even more suffering. Several people have already died of hypothermia at the borders of Serbia and Bulgaria, we cannot simply sit and update the number of those who die during the dangerous border crossings or fall victim to violence since the closure of the Balkan road.”

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