SUBOTICA, Serbia (Reuters) - Dozens of migrants from the Middle East and Africa have set up tents outside Subotica, a town in northern Serbia, with a view to sneaking over the nearby border with Hungary and on to Western Europe.
According to the Asylum Protection Centre, there are around 1,000 migrants in the northern province of Vojvodina waiting to try to cross into neighbouring countries including Romania and Hungary en route to wealthier parts of the continent.
A further 1,000 or so were in Belgrade, many of them living in the open air in parks or on river banks before they also moved north towards the border.
“We have 150 migrants entering the country from the south every day,” said Rados Djurovic, executive director of the centre.
Samir, from Morocco, said he had tried to cross the border with Croatia to travel on to Germany, but was stopped by police and military patrols. Now he is outside the camp in Subotica waiting to cross to Hungary.
“We are staying here, we have nothing, we are waiting, and I pray all the time that I will make it to (Western) Europe some time,” he told Reuters.
He and others had pitched tents in the grounds of a government-run refugee camp, where men sat in groups eating walnuts, talking or looking at their smartphones.
Migrants queued up for bread being distributed by volunteers, but few, if any, wore masks despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Svetlana Palic, spokeswoman for the government’s commissionaire for refugees, said overall migrant numbers in Serbia were some 30% higher than the same time last year.
She did not say why, but strict policies in Hungary to control the number of migrants entering its territory as well as patrols in Croatia mean some are stuck in Serbia’s north.
Their plight is back in the headlines after a fire on the Greek island of Lesbos razed a refugee camp housing more than 12,000 people to the ground, stranding most of them.
Last week the European Union launched a contentious plan to overhaul migration rules that have long divided the bloc, including an element that would de facto oblige each state to host some refugees.
Eastern nations Poland and Hungary are strongly opposed to such measures.
Serbia was a focal point for migrants in 2015, when more than a million people fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East and Asia made it to the EU’s shores, overwhelming security and welfare networks, and fomenting far-right sentiment.
Samir’s friend Adil Faris said: “I know the border is closed and that it is not easy, but we will find a way.”
Reporting by Fedja Grulovic; writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Mike Collett-White
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.