BELGRADE (Reuters) – Armed Serbian soldiers are now guarding a migrant camp on the border with Croatia in an attempt to prevent the migrants from trying to cross into the European Union.
The camp in the northern Serbian town of Sid, one of three in the area, is home to 239 migrants. They are each allowed to leave the camp for 30 minutes a day with a written permit stating the reason and the exact time that they left.
The decision to station soldiers at the camp came after Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic last Friday held talks with Prime Minister Victor Orban of neighbouring Hungary, one of the most vociferous opponents of illegal migration into Europe.
The presence of the soldiers, however, seems unlikely to deter migrants from continuing their attempts to cross the border into Croatia, which unlike Serbia is an EU member state, on their way westwards to wealthier nations such as Germany.
“I will try to cross again,” said Ali Reza, an Iranian migrant who has already been stuck for two years in Serbia and has so far made 10 attempts to cross the border, each time being turned back by police.
“I want to go to Germany. Serbia is a beautiful country, but it does not have money,” Reza told Reuters.
The number of illegal migrants following the Balkan route to western Europe has fallen sharply since 2015-16, when around a million people are believed to have made the journey. European countries have tightened border controls since then.
However, some 9,000 migrants, mainly from Afghanistan, Syria and Iran, are still stuck in Serbia, the vast majority in camps like the one at Sid. Every day the migrants attempt to cross illegally into Croatia or Hungary en route for western Europe.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Gareth Jones)