This past Saturday marked the first time in more than two weeks that Slovenia’s role in the Balkan migrant route was not the lead story here on the evening news. Sunday was the second.
That’s not to say that the story is “over” — far from it. It’s only getting started. That end, whatever it may ultimately be, won’t come for a long time, if at all.
According to official figures, as of today just over 130,000 refugees, migrants and other asylum-seekers entered (and mostly left) Slovenia during this so-called “second wave”, nearing the end on their climb up the spine of the Balkans in transit to Germany and other points north.
Slovenia entered the picture in the middle of October when Hungary sealed its borders with Serbia and Croatia, forcing the route through what is mostly a sliver of the eastern part of the country. It didn’t take long for official debate here to shift from the country’s assistance with a massive humanitarian crisis to one of defending borders. There are no plans laid out yet for Slovenia to emulate the Hungarian example and seal its southern border, but it hasn’t been entirely ruled out, either. The political will –an its popular support– isn’t hiding too far below the surface.
Since my visit to the refugee camps in Dobova and Brezice near the border with the Croatia 12 days ago, the day that a record 12,616 migrants arrived in Slovenia, things have calmed slightly on the ground. Cooperation with Croatia, who spent the first week of this second wave transporting and dumping refugees at the border unannounced, is now calling ahead. Trains are arriving in Slovenia, easing both the registration procedures EU law requires and onward transportation for the refugees.
Meanwhile in Šentilj, the northeastern town on the Austrian border where the vast majority of the migrants are departing the country, authorities constructed and opened a temporary train station further up the line, just 50 meters from the border camp facility, which will relax pressures on the city there. Locals have complained of the road closures and stresses on the local economy that the influx of migrants has created. The new depot has already helped.
In terms of numbers alone, the pace has slowed somewhat over the past week on the Slovenian-Croatian border, but that doesn’t mean the exodus is abating. The UNHCR reports that about 8,000 people continue to arrive in Greece daily, carrying rapidly fading hopes of reaching northern Europe before winter hits. And before border doors begin closing before them.
More than two dozen refugees, 17 of them children, drowned late last week when three boats capsized and sank off the islands of Kalymnos and Rhodes. The situation in Syria, from where the majority of the refugees are fleeing, continues to worsen, adding stress to nearby countries, particularly Lebanon, whose resources and patience are about the reach their breaking point. Lebanon, a country half the size of Slovenia, is currently hosting some 1.2 million Syrian refugees.
I’m heading to Lebanon on Tuesday morning, where I’ll be for the next seven days, primarily in the capital Beirut. I’m going to try to make the time to visit at least a couple refugee centers.
I’ll be curious to see what will transpire here in Slovenia in the meantime. Hopefully those border doors that opened widely a handful of years ago will still open.
All that was by way of introduction to this quick review of the past month’s most-read posts here on Piran Café. Not surprisingly, three of them related to the migrant crisis — your comments and shares are very much appreciated. Thanks so much. Please don’t stop. 🙂
Without further ado:
On an exhibit now showing in the city gallery in Piran, the Adriatic seaside town which gave this blog its name and me to the world.
An illustrated guide to one of most popular and beautiful mountain day hikes in Slovenia’s Julian Alps.
On an action that outed those sharing anti-migrant rants, death threats and hate speech on Facebook. (A follow up a few days ago is here.)
Another update on the migrant situation.
An image gallery and notebook on my visit to a pair of refugee camps on the Slovenia’s southern border.
And again, a brief reminder about comments:
I welcome and indeed encourage comments, suggestions, criticism and debate. I do not however have the patience nor the time to waste reading rants, racist tomes and other belligerent posts. I understand that this is an important issue, one that flames passions. That doesn’t mean civility needs to be thrown by the wayside.
Many thanks for reading this far.