by Staff Writers
Palic, Serbia (AFP) Feb 13, 2012
Hiding in the Serbian woods, a group of Asian illegal immigrants tried for weeks to pass the border with Hungary, until the current freezing weather forced them to break cover and accept help.
Now they risk being deported.
Just kilometres (miles) away from European Union soil in Hungary, Afghan Shahid and his fellow illegal immigrants abandoned their camp in the woods, giving up for the moment their dreams of a better life in Europe.
Now, the rag-tag group of some 40 immigrants was huddled together in an abandoned restaurant, a refuge organised by the Serbian Red Cross.
Inside, the temperature hovered around the freezing point -- but that was still better than outside, at minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit).
Skinny, with wild unkempt hair but clear eyes, 17-year-old Shahid from Afghanistan said he had already tried once to cross to Hungary.
"The Hungarian police have already caught me once and I returned to Serbia. It is very cold, but as soon as the weather improves I will try again," Shahid, from Jalalabad, told AFP.
Like his companions, he did not want to elaborate on his past or how he ended up in the Serbian woods. With others -- Pakistanis, Indians and other Afghans -- he was biding his time in the improvised camp in the woods, which they nicknamed the "jungle".
But as temperatures last week dropped to a murderous minus 25 degrees Celsius (minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit), the immigrants eventually decided to accept help from the local Red Cross.
The move could see them eventually deported to their countries of origin by the Serbian authorities.
On Lake Palic, popular with summer visitors, the Fontana restaurant has stood abandoned for years. Inside, the paint is peeling off the walls and the only furniture consists of two improvised tables with mattresses and blankets on the floor.
"The authorities decided on Wednesday to task the Red Cross with helping those people in order to avoid tragic consequences," local Red Cross official Pecze Mihaly told AFP.
The number of illegal immigrants trying to reach the European Union from the woods in Serbia had been on the rise in the last few months, he said.
"Their number varies between several dozens and several hundreds depending on weather conditions."
"We provide ... three meals a day, we also give them tea and they will undergo a preventive medical check-up," Mihaly said. The Red Cross would help them until the authorities here decide otherwise, he added.
The immigrants themselves had nothing apart from the clothes on their back -- and some of those had been been donated by the Red Cross. They were clearly not adequately dressed for the freezing temperatures registered in the region for the past ten days.
On site, local workers were tring to get the electricity, water and heating working to make conditions a bit more livable for the immigrants.
"It's better here than in the woods, they give us food, and now there is electricity," said Honey Singh, an 18-year-old Sikh from India's Punjab state.
"When the weather gets better I will try to continue my journey to Germany, where there are chances to start a new life," Singh added.
Others, like Pakistani Omer Amaqbool, were thinking about giving up on their European dream.
"I left Pakistan two years ago and my goal was Austria where I have a cousin," the 19-year-old said.
"But I have no more money and I don't know if I should continue my travel or return home.
"Thank God and those people here who help us," he muttered, as he tucked into the warm meal and bread served by the Red Cross.
It's A White Out at TerraDaily.com
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Snow blocks in tens of thousands as cold death toll rises
Belgrade (AFP) Feb 11, 2012
Snow drifts reaching up to rooftops kept tens of thousands of villagers prisoners in their own homes Saturday as the death toll from Europe's big freeze rose past 550. More heavy snow fell on the Balkans and in Italy, while the Danube river, already closed to shipping for hundreds of kilometres (miles) because of thick ice, froze over in Bulgaria for the first time in 27 years. Montenegr ... read more
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