Mideast migrants to face winter in Europe
LONDON - Winter is coming and Europe is scrambling to ensure that the thousands of Middle East refugees who arrive at its shores every day receive the shelter and warmth they desperately need.
“Think of the families sleeping in parks and railway stations in Budapest, in tents in Traiskirchen [in Austria] or on shores in Kos. What will become of them on the cold, winter night?” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.
“Every day counts. Otherwise we will soon see families in cold rivers in the Balkans perish miserably,” Juncker warned.
While a number of European countries agreed to provide 100,000 additional places in shelters along the western Balkan route to Europe’s Schengen zone, at least 60,000 refugees are arriving in Greece every week, indicating that there will be a dangerous shortfall in the number of places for incoming migrants.
“I didn’t want to come [to Europe] now but it was sort of now or never. The future doesn’t exist in Syria. That is a fact. The weather, the cold, the rain, they are also facts. If we risked staying on, we might have risked everything,” Syrian refugee Rashid al-Shabai told Britain’s Guardian newspaper on his arrival in Greece.
He is one of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees racing against time to reach Europe before winter weather makes crossing the Aegean or Mediterranean an even more dangerous risk.
Even after arriving in Greece, migrants face a perilous journey through the Balkans and central Europe. Many others are trying the route through Croatia and Slovenia. All have the goal of reaching the border-free Schengen zone.
“The first winter weather, including freezing temperatures, rain and storms, has arrived in many parts of central and south-eastern Europe and is already affecting refugees and migrants arriving or transitioning through here,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.
Thousands of refugees have been captured on film marching en masse to the Slovenian border with Austria, highlighting the scale of the problem that Europe is facing.
These refugees, many fleeing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, are unused to the harsh winter climate of Europe and are ill-equipped to deal with the cold and rain.