Des­per­ate Europe-bound mi­grants turn to Black Sea

Emer­gence of a new ‘Ro­ma­nian route’ to western Europe ?

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

While the ar­rival of ex­hausted mi­grants may be com­mon on Mediter­ranean shores, it’s a rare sight on the Black Sea coast­line. But a string of re­cent ar­rivals from Turkey sug­gests it may be emerg­ing as part of a new ‘Ro­ma­nian route’ to western Europe.

Shortly be­fore dawn on Wed­nes­day, around 150 peo­ple, a third of them chil­dren, were res­cued in the Black Sea-the fifth mi­grant boat to be in­ter­cepted by Ro­ma­nian au­thor­i­ties since mid-Au­gust.

The ar­rival of some 570 Iraqis, Syr­i­ans, Afghans, Ira­ni­ans and Pak­ista­nis in less than a month re­mains mod­est com­pared to the in­flux recorded in the Mediter­ranean.

In 2014, the last year of rel­a­tive ac­tiv­ity, close to 300 mi­grants crossed the Black Sea to reach Ro­ma­nia. EU mem­ber Ro­ma­nia is not part of the bloc’s pass­port-free Schen­gen zone and un­til now has largely avoided the kind of in­flux of refugees and mi­grants seen else­where on the con­ti­nent over the past few years. The lat­est de­vel­op­ments are be­ing care­fully watched in the coun­try. “This seems to in­di­cate that smug­glers are try­ing to find a route through the Black Sea,” Krzysztof Borowski, a spokesman for Fron­tex, the EU’s bor­der force agency, told AFP.

Smug­glers are look­ing for more af­flu­ent mi­grants to pay the fare for the new route which avoids Greece, where ar­rivals risk de­por­ta­tion un­der an agree­ment be­tween the EU and Ankara, ex­plained Mircea Mo­canu, head of the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion (IOM) in Ro­ma­nia.

The cross­ing be­tween Turkey and Ro­ma­nia can cost be­tween 1,000 and 3,000 eu­ros, he added. How­ever, he is doubt­ful there will be in an in­flux of boats dur­ing the colder months: “It is ten times more dif­fi­cult to cross the Black Sea than the Mediter­ranean Sea.”

“It’s the Black Sea, not be­cause of its colour but be­cause of the dan­ger dur­ing storms,” said Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Gabriel Cerchez, who was part of Tues­day’s res­cue. “Un­til the boat en­ters the port, it could cap­size at any time.”

‘Ready for any­thing’

Other tests await mi­grants who dare to make the cross­ing in a bid to reach western Europe, where re­in­forced con­trols and fences make it dif­fi­cult to cross bor­ders.

In Timisoara, close to the bor­der with Hun­gary, hun­dreds of mi­grants are wait­ing for an op­por­tu­nity to cross over. At the im­mi­gra­tion cen­tre, Tarek, a 19-year-old Syr­ian, told AFP he had been stopped while try­ing to reach the bor­der in a car.

He has de­cided to stay in Ro­ma­nia to be­come a com­puter en­gi­neer, but he said many of his friends are “ready to do any­thing” to leave. “Peo­ple come and ask: ‘do you want to stay or go? Be­cause I know a way to get to Ger­many that’s 100 per­cent safe’,” he said, adding that mid­dle-men get 100 eu­ros for set­ting up a mi­grant with a smug­gler. Not far from the cen­tre, around 15 men were gath­ered on waste­land in a makeshift camp, in hope of find­ing a smug­gler. Among them, Rafi, a 23-year-old Pak­istani, and Zakir, a young Afghan, said they crossed from Hun­gary in to Ro­ma­nia by foot.

A di­rect cross­ing from Ser­bia to Hun­gary has be­come al­most im­pos­si­ble be­cause of the barbed wire fenc­ing erected be­tween the two coun­tries, while the long Ro­ma­nian-Hun­gar­ian bor­der re­mains open.

Ac­cord­ing to Ro­ma­nia’s bor­der po­lice, more than 1,200 peo­ple at­tempt­ing to cross the western bor­der have been ar­rested since the be­gin­ning of the year, com­pared to 900 in for all of 2016. The IOM es­ti­mates that 80 per­cent of at­tempts fail. For Tarek, is it a bit­ter con­clu­sion: “A year and a half of my life has been wasted in the hope of join­ing the promised land.” —AFP

Turk­ish boats of which some trans­ported mi­grants over the Black Sea and were seized by Ro­ma­nian bor­der po­lice are pic­tured in Con­stanta, south­east­ern Ro­ma­nia. — AFP

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