The European Union and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees say they will provide temporary accommodation for an extra 100,000 people in Greece and the Balkans.



But will they do it in time?


The refugee camp at Spielfeld, on the Austria-Slovenia border. Just across the border from the camp, on the Slovenian side, a family in flight from Iraq has arrived, much of the family cold and in soaking wet clothes. Their clothes hang drying on the fences in the sun.


At a recent European Summit in Brussels, leaders from Western Europe promised to provide accommodation for 100,000 people. But any day now, temperatures can plummet to well below freezing. Will the shelters be ready in time to head off a catastrophe?


Melita Sunjic is a spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency, working in Croatia.


“Of course, you couldn’t start from scratch. But if you have old, disused factory buildings or an old motel or something like that, then you can fairly quickly adapt it to the needs of short-term shelter.”

But it is more complicated than mere shelter.


More than 2,000 people recently spent a night in the open in Austria, one of the best-resourced countries in the region. In winter, such a situation could have tragic consequences.


On the Austria-Hungary border, Wolfgang Breuer, is helping refugees and migrants. He is from Intereuropean Human Aid, a group of volunteers organised via Facebook. As the days grow shorter and the nights colder, he worries about what might happen.


“We organise who can take some people with them and bring them to the right hotspots.* And by now, it’s a very bad situation, because the weather got bad. It’s rainy, and the people go down in the mud. Yeah, very bad now.”

Melita Sunjic spends many of her days in reception centres on the Serbia-Croatia border, where desperate people sometimes rush border posts they fear might suddenly close. She says they are reluctant to be taken to accommodation which is either off their route or in a country where they do not want to stay.


“They refuse to go into shelters, because they keep waiting at the borders, afraid that they will miss an opening of the border. We have people completely soaked. We have children, of course, wet and cold and cranky, people getting nervous, scuffles between the refugees, so this is always potentially a very dangerous situation, both for security and health-wise.”

Many in Europe expected the refugee and migrant flow to ease as temperatures dropped.

That has not happened.

Melita Sunjic says she has seen many refugee crises before this one but never one like this one.


“I see a lot of three-generation families. So, it would be a young couple with their children — very often, a pregnant mum — and they take the old grandmother or grandfather with them, in wheelchairs, people with one leg moving on … So there’s such a pressure, such a fear of staying where they were. And they tell horrible stories of what happened in their home-towns. So they really want to get to safety and start a new life.”


In the Spielfeld refugee centre, a man named Massoud is sitting in the open with his family as their clothes dry.


“Where are you from?”


“From Iraq. Where are you going?”

“In Allemagne.”

“To Germany.”

“Yes, Germany.”

“Is this your family?”

“Yes, family. Our family.”

“How many?”

“How many? Oh, uh … 14.”


Massoud’s family will soon make the one-kilometre walk to Austria, where they hope there will be a bus or train to take them to Germany. They have beaten winter but behind them are tens of thousands who might not.



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