Monday 5 December 2016

'Fences won't stop people. Desperation is the most powerful force we know'

The Balkans has seen refugees come and go for centuries. Now, they carry mobile phones and their last savings, but they are just as desperate as their predecessors

Fergal Keane

Published 10/01/2016 | 02:30

A Syrian refugee child looks on, moments after arriving on a raft with other Syrian refugees on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, January 4, 2016. REUTERS/Giorgos Moutafis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Syrian refugee child looks on, moments after arriving on a raft with other Syrian refugees on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, January 4, 2016. REUTERS/Giorgos Moutafis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The rain was belting against the window as we pushed north. Somewhere in the trees that covered the hillsides, migrants and refugees were trying to sleep. We passed a police van pulled in at the side of the road. A group of men had been stopped and were being questioned. They were carrying what they owned in small rucksacks and were soaking wet.

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I was dozing, half listening to the driver who was telling the story of a German reporter he'd worked with during the Kosovo war in 1999. She'd pleaded with him to take her from Greece into Macedonia and on through Serbia into the war zone. But he wouldn't drive beyond the Macedonian border. He recalled: "I said to her: 'wait, wait, there are too many bombs and shootings.' She wouldn't listen." The reporter went ahead with an Albanian driver and was killed at a Serb checkpoint.

A memory of the Kosovo war came floating up: fleeing refugees being held up by Albanian bandits who stole the UN blankets they'd been given just a few moments before. A policeman tried to intervene and a bandit showed his gun. The thieving continued.

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