Switzerland, 25 September 2015 - As tens of thousands of migrants leave Greece for Western Europe, International Organization for Migration (IOM) is meeting the challenge with teams on the ground in Transit Centers in Presevo, Serbia, and Gevgalja, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (the FYROM). This week, IOM learned it will receive £5.75 million from the Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom, to help the Geneva-based agency deal with the humanitarian emergency.
The funding will allow IOM to implement a range of much needed humanitarian programmes which include:
• supporting the existing efforts of the Western Balkans governments to address the most urgent needs and priorities related to the management of the migration flows;
• providing life-saving assistance and protection in Europe, including Greece and Italy;
• supporting migrants and asylum seekers in Africa, including assistance, protection and counselling on options and risks around travel and support in returning home where required; and
• supporting the development of systems for better understanding and predicting trends in movement, which will allow for more targeted and informed responses.
Since mid-June IOM’s team in the FYROM have recorded 94,842 arrivals from Greece, over 40,000 of those in just over one month since August 22, when registration at the Gevgalja reception center on the FYROM border with Greece was fully computerized. Prior to that date, all registration was done by hand.
As of this week, IOM registrars at the transit center have entered data on migrants from more than 50 countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, including a handful from as far away as Myanmar and Nepal. Some entrants even claim to have been traveling from Latin America, Europe and the Caribbean islands.
Syrians remain the largest single national group, followed by Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Palestine. African nations recording at least 100 entries at the Gevgalja camp include Democratic Republic of the Congo (368 arrivals), Nigeria (221), Cameroon (169), Eritrea (163), Ethiopia (126) and Sudan (111). In smaller numbers, migrants are starting to arrive this month from Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Ghana, Gambia, Senegal, Swaziland and Mali.
Baniko Sesoko, 36, said he came from Mali leaving a family behind to fly to Turkey and then make his way by boat to Greece. Mr. Sesoko said he hopes to finish his journey in Finland. “We don’t come to Europe to make more money, we come expecting peace,” he told an IOM team as he stood with a group of 60 Africans standing outside the Gevgalja camp gate waiting its turn for processing. “It’s not easy to risk your life in this river,” he explained. “Anyone you see behind us in this line, they are looking for a peaceful country. They have no peaceful life.”
From the FYROM, registrants board a train for Serbia, which they must pay 25 Euros each for passage. The four to five hour journey drops migrants at the border, south of the city of Presovo, where IOM team work with counterparts from UNHCR, Médecins sans Frontieres and other international aid groups.
In Presevo, registration of arriving migrants is more systematic, featuring full ten-digit fingerprinting, and the issuance of documents with photographs, something not done thus far in the FYROM.
IOM regional coordinator Gianluca Rocco said with winter approaching and the future of passage across the Balkans unknown at this time, all countries including those that are not currently affected by the flows need to make contingency plans in the event thousands of migrants are stranded in the Balkans during winter. Mr. Rocco said IOM has already assisted Albania in this endeavour and is currently supporting Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina on their planning needs as well.