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Migrants Trapped In Border Space Between Hungary And Serbia


This morning, we're hearing about what it means for desperate migrants to be stopped at one border. They find another. Croatia is suddenly seeing a trickle of refugees that may become a flood now that neighboring Hungary has followed through on its pledge to seal its border with Serbia. That route has been the main one into the European Union. Now migrants requesting asylum in Hungary will be turned back, and those who do make it across the border could be imprisoned for up to three years. Francine Uenuma is with Save the Children, which is supplying diapers, formula and other essentials to families on the move. She joined us from the Serbia-Hungary border.

Good morning.

FRANCINE UENUMA: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, we understand you're in something of a no man's land or have been in that area between the border post. And describe for us what that's like.

UENUMA: That's right. We were in this no man's land. After you crossed from Serbia towards Hungary, there was a fence with the wire along it, and hundreds of people were essentially trapped there in limbo yesterday afternoon. They needed food. They needed water. At one point, somebody hung a sign on the fence that said, Europe, shame, no food, no water, and the crowd cheered. So there's a frustration because people have come so far to get here, and now there's even more uncertainty.

MONTAGNE: And what has happened since Hungary closed its border with Serbia?

UENUMA: People I spoke with this morning have been here over night. Some are waiting to see if there will be some change in the border. But we're also hearing reports that people are seeking alternate routes through Romania or through Croatia. I mean, I think what's clear is that people were determined enough to cross water at great peril and then often walk for hundreds of kilometers. They're very determined, and they don't want to turn back now.

MONTAGNE: These migrants that you're seeing and talking to, are they all from Syria? Are they all refugees? What are they saying about why they want to get into the EU?

UENUMA: For many, they are fleeing war and violence. But when I was recently in Greece, we had a dinghy arrive - in fact, several in a row, full of water. Everyone on that boat was from Afghanistan. So there are a majority of Syrians, but you're seeing numbers - high numbers - from Afghanistan and from Iraq as well who want to reach Europe and who are arriving in Greece by boat.

MONTAGNE: And these are speaking of themselves as refugees from violence...


MONTAGNE: ...From conflict.

UENUMA: That's correct. I mean, there has been a lot of debate, both in terms of Italy's arrivals and Greece's arrivals about seeking better economic opportunity, but in my experience in talking to people, they're fleeing violence. They're fleeing persecution. And the risks they're taking, I think, underscore that point. We saw a 3-month-old baby arriving in a dinghy, and shortly after a 76-year-old man. I think common sense would tell you that you don't take that kind of risk and then walk for days on end in the heat because you want to seek a slightly better opportunity. I think for many what's behind is worse than what's before, which is saying a lot because what's here is not easy, either.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for talking with us.

UENUMA: Sure. No problem. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's Francine Uenuma, who is with Save the Children. She spoke to us from a border crossing between Serbia and Hungary. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.