Migrants and refugees are facing life-threatening conditions after snow and arctic cold blanketed Greece, Serbia and south-eastern Europe.
Temperatures at night have dropped below minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit) in some areas. Thousands of migrants are sleeping either outside, in camps or abandoned buildings. The temperatures are well below freezing inside.
The migrants and refugees are mostly Afghans, Pakistanis, Syrians and Iraqis. They have fled conflict situations. Even after the migration route from Turkey to Greece was closed last March, people have been trying to enter Europe by crossing closed borders.
“The worst conditions in Greece are in the north,” said Maristella Tsamatropoulou, communications officer of Caritas Hellas, which works in three camps run by the government and army.
“People cannot even drink or get a bath because the water is frozen,” she said, “Caritas is providing bottled water so they can make soup or tea.”
“There is no heating. People are giving them wood to start fires or electric stoves. They burn anything they can to stay warm. It’s really dangerous as it could cause a fire,” she said. A navy ship docked Wednesday at the eastern Mediterranean island of Lesbos to house 500 migrants during the cold weather.
Concern grows in Serbia
More than 7,500 people are also stranded in freezing conditions in Serbia, including dozens trapped near the Hungarian border.
“The camps are very over-crowded in Serbia, and in Belgrade thousands of people are sleeping out in the open,” Daniele Bombardi, Caritas Italy’s coordinator in Serbia, told Vatican Radio.
“Caritas is on the frontline of the migrant emergency providing clothes, food and medical support to these migrants and refugees,” said Bombardi. “We do what the government allows us to do. Migration in the country is under the strict control of the government and it doesn’t want civil society organisations to operate autonomously.
“We see unanswered needs that we’d have the means to respond to but the government doesn’t allow us to respond adequately.”