Tens Of Thousands Of Migrants Stranded After Balkan Route Is Blocked
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Well, the door to Europe is closing. Three Balkan nations that have served as a pathway north from Greece announced that they will no longer be allowing anyone in without a visa. Those countries are Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia. This means migrants who are struggling to reach northern Europe along what's called the Balkan route are now blocked. Tens of thousands of people are now stuck in Greece, an EU member state. And let's talk to reporter Joanna Kakissis, who has been covering this story. She's in Athens this morning. Joanna, good morning.
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So why now? Why are these Balkan countries deciding to do this right now?
KAKISSIS: Well, you know, they really had no choice after Austria imposed these very severe border restrictions last month. Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia - these are all parts of what used to be Yugoslavia. And they have long said they don't have the resources to care for very large groups of asylum seekers. Migrants were just transiting through these countries, as you mentioned. So sometimes they only stayed a few hours before going on to the next border. But with northern Europe closing to migrants, Balkan countries worry that lots of Syrians and Iraqis would be stuck there, just as is happening now in Greece.
GREENE: Well, and I've been listening to some of your reporting along the Greek-Macedonian border. I mean, some of those borders have already been tightening. And it sounds like just a terrible scene with people just stuck trying to get through.
KAKISSIS: Yeah, that's right. There are a lot of desperate people at the border. There are currently more than 35,000 Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans stuck in Greece - in crowded camps mostly. And along that border, the Greek-Macedonian border, there are about 14,000 people camped out in tents. When I was there, the conditions were terrible. And they continue to be terrible. It's muddy. There are few toilets and showers. I saw lots of moms waiting in these super long lines for, like, three, four hours for food. I saw lots of sick little kids. I met Fadi Kamar Aldeen at this camp. He's a lawyer from Idlib, Syria. His wife, Randa. His wife, Randa, was a physics teacher back home. They have three young children and they want to go to Germany. And Fadi was hoping German officials would do something about the border closures.
FADI KAMAR ALDEEN: They must help us, you know? We have bigger problem. These people, these children, these women must stay in good place in peace.
KAKISSIS: In peace - so some people may ask, well, Greece is peaceful - isn't it? Yes, yes, it is peaceful. But it's not prepared to house huge numbers of destitute people.
GREENE: Well, and, Joanna, I guess we should remember, I mean, Fadi, this lawyer, talking about his desires to get to Germany - Germany has been more welcoming than other European countries. But the problem is the countries in between have really been shutting these borders down, just stopping people like him from getting there.
KAKISSIS: Yes, and that's because there's a sentiment going around Europe that too many migrants are coming in, too many people that Europeans are going to have to support. And there are several countries that don't want any migrants at all. They don't want to share the burden. So Germany may still be saying you're welcome, but there are several other countries that say you're not.
GREENE: And what about the finger-pointing at Greece? I mean, that it sounds like is becoming much more intense - countries basically saying to the Greeks, this is your problem, you've got to deal with it.
KAKISSIS: Yeah, I mean, Slovakia and Austria, for example, have been saying that Greece doesn't know how to patrol its sea borders, that it should seal its sea borders. They're getting - they're lecturing the Greeks on this. And the Greeks are outraged that two landlocked nations are telling them how to patrol their own coast. In Slovakia, the prime minister is echoing Donald Trump and saying no Muslim migrants will ever enter his country. He's even gone as far as saying that Greece should be kicked out of Europe's passport-free zone for failing to patrol its borders.
GREENE: What's next for people like Fadi who you spoke to who are sitting along that border?
KAKISSIS: Well, the EU is now pushing Greece to finish reception centers that could house tens of thousands of people with the idea that the migrants currently in Greece will be here a really long time. And that's very, very scary for people like Fadi and his family. They haven't showered for two weeks because there are no showers there. And they have been sending me messages this morning saying, OK, we're losing hope. We're going to stay here. They just don't know how to get from Greece to Germany.
GREENE: OK, that's reporter Joanna Kakissis speaking to us from Athens. Joanna, thanks.
KAKISSIS: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.