Refugees in the Balkans: Another political card to play

Women and children among Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway | Wikimedia

Since the war and violence swept across Syria in 2012, the number of refugees leaving the country and seeking shelter elsewhere has been on the rise. This takes place while refugees remain stuck in the whirlwind of political decisions made to either put pressure on the Syrian government, preventing the refugees from seeking a better place as an asylum or starting life all over again out of fear of a new unclear future. Also, refugees from war-struck countries that were attacked by the US government such as Afghanistan and Iraq had been increasingly leaving to find shelter.

The situation in the Balkans is not very different from other parts of the world with two good examples being Turkey and Lebanon, where Syrian refugees are being either confined in certain areas or used as a pressure card in the political turmoil.

In Lebanon for instance, “the UN, under the pressure of certain countries, wants to prevent the Syrian refugees from returning home from Lebanon in a bid to use their presence as an instrument against the government in Damascus”, as stated by the Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem.

Qassem revealed that "A European official has revealed this issue which means that they want to use the issue of the refugees in Lebanon as a political leverage against the Syrian government and claim that the government should be blamed for the wave of refugees leaving their country and therefore, facilitate adoption of international resolutions against it."

Even though the Lebanese government places the total figure of resident Syrian refugees at close to 1.5 million, 1 million Syrian refugees are currently registered with the United Nations’ refugee agency in Lebanon.

Back to the Balkans, sources report that at least 24 thousand people are believed to have made the journey along the Balkans migration trail since European leaders declared the route shut in early March.

Sources noted that in 2016, migrants who were stranded in Greece have been crossing on foot into Macedonia as parts of the border are not fenced off. In Bulgaria, overland route to Serbia via Bulgaria has become popular since the crackdown on sea crossings from Turkey surged. Croatia crossings have been popular and Hungary’s border fence did not stop some 20 thousand migrants from arriving in 2016.

Moreover, refugees in Serbia are being held in since two years as if it were becoming a city of ‘limbo status’ as they are prevented from leaving to other European countries.

An Afghan who has lived for the past six months with 1,500 other Afghan, Iraqi and Pakistani migrants in abandoned warehouses and a tent village that sprung up behind the bus station told sources that he tried to leave Serbia 17 times but he was brought back every single time.

7,000 refugees stuck in Serbia since the European migrant crisis erupted two years ago. Bulgaria, Hungary and other European Union members that border Serbia, which is not part of the 28-nation alliance, have closed their borders to refugees seeking to escape war and economic stagnation in Syria and elsewhere.

The closure of the Balkans humanitarian corridor has reduced migration numbers, it has forced many people to seek more dangerous routes to northern Europe. Hence, Europe continues to put different types of pressure to make sure the Syrian refugees do not take Europe as its new home and make new comers think twice before carrying out the step. This also comes at a time when Europe tries to create an atmosphere for an international resolution to see light.