Migrant Lives

A New Calais? Migrant 'Jungle' Forms On Serbia-Croatia Border

Migrants have begun to live in an informal camp 70 miles from Belgrade, hoping to start a new life westward in Europe.

An Afghan refugee near the Serbian-Croatian border in Sid, Serbia on February 11
An Afghan refugee near the Serbian-Croatian border in Sid, Serbia on February 11
Camilla Cupelli

ŠID — After the Serbian government shut down an official migrant center in this town on the Croatian border, an informal camp arose next to the train station. Locals were quick to start calling it "the Jungle," a reference to the sprawling makeshift camp in Calais, France that had long been a decrepit home to thousands of migrants seeking to cross the English Channel.

More than 100 people have been stuck here since the border was closed in the autumn of 2016, taking shelter in the railway tracks and an abandoned factory nearby. In the last few weeks, many have left on a new route to the European Union through Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"That route is simpler because the border with Bosnia is longer, and there are drones patrolling the Croatian border now," says an Afghan migrant named Yamal.

Officials are discouraging migrants from traveling through Bosnia. "There's only one center there," says Marc Pratllusà of the Spanish NGO No Name Kitchen. "We went there a few days ago, and the situation still needs to stabilize."

Faces Of Šid

For the migrants stuck in Šid, their informal leader is Komando, an Afghan man fluent in English who earned his nickname fighting in a militia group. After suffering an injury that left him in the hospital for four months, he traveled across several countries and gained an intimate knowledge of border issues along the way.

Everyone in the Šid camp has been pushed back from the border at least once.

While Komando sits under the shade eating corn served by No Name Kitchen, other members of the camp's Afghan community and Spanish volunteers play a game with dice and bottle caps. Seated just a few feet away in the brush near the railway tracks is 24-year-old Lucky, one of the few Pakistanis in Šid. Impeccably dressed in a vest over a red polo, he tells his story of fleeing the Taliban by paying smugglers more than $5,000 to travel to Turkey and onto Europe.

"I've been here for five months and ten days, but I want to go to Croatia because the smugglers say it's better than Bosnia," he says. "I'm here with my cousin but this could be our last night here, God willing."

An engineer with a perfect English accent, he is convinced he'll find work and a better future in Italy. "No one goes alone, we all have someone to help us cross the border," he says. "In Italy they don't deport you, and there are more job opportunities there."


Refugees in an abandoned factory close to the Serbian-Croatian border in Sid, Serbia on February 9 — Photo: Edward Crawford

Everyone in the Šid camp has been pushed back from the border at least once. Some try to cross into Croatia once a week, and many have been here for more than a year. Others, like Yamal and his cousin Jamil, use it as a pitstop before leaving as soon as possible. After spending one day in Šid, the two 17-year-olds with hopeful eyes will leave for Bosnia with a larger group. "We slept here in a tent amid the ruins, but tomorrow we will leave," says one.

A large faded sign overhanging the decrepit buildings marks the entrance to the camp. Graffiti in different languages is scrawled on the walls and a small swing hangs from metal tubes. Any shaded spot in sight is taken up by a tent, and a single large water tank serves the entire community.

Volunteers from No Name Kitchen help fill the tank and bring more to provide bathing water. "There were many more organizations here in the winter, when it was very cold and there were a hundred people here," says Pratllusà. "Now we're the only ones left."

The spotlight of the migrant crisis has shifted elsewhere.

In the last few months, the media attention that came with the spotlight of the European migrant crisis has shifted elsewhere as politicians tout the closing of the so-called "Balkan route." Locals in Šid aren't buying it.

"The data tells us that the number of people entering Serbia isn't decreasing, with 456 arriving in April and 250 in the first two weeks of May," says Sara Ristić of Info Park, a local organization that provides migrants arriving in Belgrade with essential information to navigate the city. "The outflow towards Bosnia is a new phenomenon, as well as the arrival of more Iranians overstaying their tourist visas and other migrants expelled here from Bulgaria, Hungary, and Croatia."

While numbers aren't falling, they don't seem to be rising either. According to an April 2018 report by the Belgrade-based NGO Refugees Aid Serbia, 33% of migrants who tried to enter Croatia were pushed back, compared to 31% for those seeking to cross into Hungary.

"Border police often commit acts of violence against these people," says Stephanie Moissaing of Doctors Without Borders, which operates in Serbia. "They cause psychological and physical injuries which could make the victims more aggressive."

The Bosnian Ministry of Defense reported that 2,280 migrants have been found attempting to illegally enter the country so far in 2018, with 1,967 of them apprehended at the border. The number of arrivals is rising but the country remains unprepared for the influx. Serbia operates at least five government-run migrant centers, but almost all those arriving in Bosnia flock to the northwestern town of Bihac on the border with Croatia.

Bosnian authorities and the local press have condemned the growing inflow of people but have proposed little in the way of solutions. NGOs warn of an imminent emergency if migrants begin to cross into Bosnia by traversing the river Drina, which marks a long stretch of the border with Serbia.

"The camps are overflowing because there are too many people housed in them," says Moissaing. "But for the people arriving in Bosnia, it's an important psychological victory. They've taken a step forward, even though the next one will be even more difficult."

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At the Mango Festival held in Aswan, Egypt

Nada Arafat

ISMAILIA – Every year during the month of July, crowds gather in the mango farms of Ismailia, in northeastern Egypt, to pick the delectable summer fruit during its relatively short harvest season. But this year, as a result of erratic weather patterns throughout March and April, the usual bountiful mango harvest was severely affected with farmers witnessing a precipitous drop in yield. Some 300,000 farms saw an 80% decrease in productivity, leading to a supply shortage in the market and a corresponding 40% increase in the price of mangoes.

The effects of these climate fluctuations could have been mitigated by farmers, yet according to experts who spoke to Mada Masr, the agriculture minister failed to play a role in raising awareness among farmers and in providing agricultural guidance services.

Heatwaves kill crops

Mangoes are highly sensitive to changes in temperature. For germination to occur, the ideal temperature should be between 10 °C at night and 28 °C during the day, according to agricultural consultants. In Egypt, this weather pattern usually occurs in February. Mango trees then flower and the flowers turn into fruits that take 40 days to grow and be ready for harvest, according to Karam Suleiman, an agricultural engineer.

This year, however, according to mango farmers in Ismailia who spoke to Mada Masr, the beginning of the winter farming season experienced a sudden heatwave followed by another heatwave at the end of March. In both March and April, the temperature dipped to as low as 5 °C at night and as high as 25 °C during the day. Due to these erratic weather fluctuations, the mango flowers that develop into fruit fell before they could mature.

The typical average mango yield from one feddan (approx 1.03 acres or 0.40 hectares) ranges between 6 to 8 tons. This year however, the yield per feddan averaged between just 1 to 2 tons, according to several sources.

Frozen mango suppliers multiply purchases

A farm owner in Al-Tal al-Kebir on the Ismailia Desert Road, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, said that his farm produced approximately 35 tons of mangoes last year, whereas this year his yield did not exceed 4 tons. He added that many farmers in the surrounding area, which is famous for mango cultivation, experienced the same steep declines in yield.

The limited mango yield and the subsequent hike in prices has also prompted frozen mango suppliers to multiply their purchases from farms in order to capitalize and sell them next year at an even higher price, according to Ali Saqr, an agricultural engineer in a fruit export company, along with a number of other farm owners who spoke to Mada Masr. Mangos can stay frozen for up to two years.

Khaled Eweis, who buys mangoes and stores them in rented freezers then later sells the frozen mangoes to juice and dessert shops, explained to Mada Masr that juice shops usually use the Zebdia variety of mangoes, whereas dessert shops use Keitt mangoes. The latter is expected to be priced at 25 Egyptian pounds ($1.5) this year after having been sold for half the price at the same time last year.

Last year, Eweis bought Zebdia mangoes for 10–12 Egyptian pounds ($0.6–$0.7) per kilo then resold them for 16 ($1) after freezing them. This year, the Zebdia prices ranged from 17–21 ($1–$1.30) per kilo, and Eweis expects that the price after freezing will reach as high as 25 ($1.5).

Photo of an Egyptian man shouldering a basket full of mangoes

The typical average mango yield from one feddan (approx 1.03 acres) ranges between 6 to 8 tons


Threat to water security

This is not the first time that mango production has been hit hard as a result of fluctuating weather patterns. A similar crisis in the mango harvest took place in 2018, and other crops, such as olives, potatoes, wheat, rice and cotton, have also been adversely affected over the last few years, according to Mohamed Fahem, the head of the government Climate Change Information Center. And human-induced changes to global weather patterns as a result of climate change point to increased agricultural challenges in the future.

The deadly heat waves, fires, hurricanes and other extreme weather events that have dominated headlines in recent years will only become more frequent in the coming decades, according to a United Nations report on climate change released in August. In its sixth assessment report, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called human-induced changes to global climate systems "unprecedented." While the report calls for drastic cuts to the global emission of greenhouse gases, much of the effects of climate change are already locked in for decades to come.

Among the areas most vulnerable to climate change is agriculture. A 2018 report titled Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Changes in Egypt found that climate change can have drastic effects on agriculture through changes in temperature, rainfall, CO2 levels and solar radiation. Meanwhile, a 2020 European Union report also found that climate change will pose a threat to global food production in the medium to long-term through projected changes in daily temperature, precipitation, wind, relative humidity and global radiation.

According to various studies, climate change gradually reduces the duration of spring, autumn and winter, which in turn affects the crops that are cultivated during those seasons. In Egypt in particular, the country's agricultural crop map will likely change as a result of a prolonged summer season, according to a study by former Agriculture Minister Ayman Abou Hadid, published in 2010 when he was heading the Center for Agricultural Studies. The study predicted that grain cultivation will gradually move north from Upper Egypt due to increases in winter temperatures, though it did not give a projected timeframe.

Cold and heat waves

Climate change also increases salinity levels in soil due to rising sea levels, which in turn renders the soil only suitable for crops that can handle high salinity yet still require intensive irrigation to mitigate the salinity levels. At the same time, Egypt is currently facing a threat to its water security due to the changes in rain patterns and droughts as well as the potential effects of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

According to Fahim, the increased cold and heat waves Egypt has experienced has led to the emergence of new, mutated varieties of pests and fungal diseases that are resistant to chemicals. For example, in 2018, aphids and whiteflies spread due to the shortened winter season, and the accumulation of these pests led to huge losses in potato and cotton yields. Meanwhile, palm trees were harmed due to the appearance of red palm weevils.

How farmers counter mango losses

The severe losses in the 2021 mango yield were hard to avoid, but is there a way to counter them?

Karam Suleiman, an agricultural engineer, believes that better methods of agriculture, irrigation and fertilization, along with raising awareness among farmers about the dangers of climate change and how to monitor weather fluctuations could succeed in mitigating such outcomes.

However, Egypt appears currently incapable of providing sufficient safety networks to farmers in order to enable them to confront the effects of climate change.

An example of this is apparent in the failure to enforce mechanisms for warning farmers about potential difficulties in upcoming farming seasons. In June, a report by the Center for Agricultural Studies warned about a decline of as much as 85% in the productivity of farms in Ismailia, where mangoes are mainly cultivated, as well as farms in Sharqiya, Suez and Beheira, due to climate change. However, this report only reached about 13 farmers and owners of mango farms, according to agricultural sources who spoke to Mada Masr.

Ahmed Asal, a mango farmer in Qantara in Ismailia, told Mada Masr that there has been no guidance from authorities in helping farmers understand climate change and how to respond to it. "No one told us what to do and we never received any compensation for our losses," Asal said.

Photo of a hand picking a mango from the tree in Egypt

Mangoes are highly sensitive to changes in temperature

Ahmed Gomaa/Xinhua/ZUMA

Agriculture engineers must become climate engineers

Agricultural guidance is a service offered by the Agriculture Ministry to raise awareness and educate farmers about all aspects of farming. The service is usually provided through agricultural engineers who are based in the agricultural cooperatives that exist in every city and town.

Fahim, the head of the Climate Change Information Center, works to play a similar role through his Facebook page and, at times, on various TV channels and newspapers, by raising awareness about weather fluctuations and their effects on agriculture. However, his insights do not have a wide enough audience, particularly at a time when the agricultural guidance is dwindling despite the opening of the Agricultural Guidance Center in Qantara earlier this year under the auspices of the Agriculture Ministry.

"Agricultural guidance has been doing a good job lately, but only in the media, not on the ground," said Alaa Khairy,* an engineer at the Central Laboratory for Climate Change. "If they were really working on the ground, farmers would not have lost as much as they did."

More important crops like wheat will be next

What exacerbates the crisis is that those who are harmed the most are small farmers — those who have between 10 to 20 feddans of land — who cannot afford to take preemptive precautionary measures to mitigate erratic weather patterns nor hire experts who can help them make better decisions about how to handle sudden climate fluctuations. Those farmers also cannot afford to provide covers for their fruits during hot seasons, which is one way to prevent crop damage that is quite costly.

This year's crisis is expected to be repeated in the coming years due to the rapid consequences and effects of climate change on global food security. Aside from mangoes, the effects of climate change are projected to affect far more important crops, such as wheat, with reports showing global wheat crop losses due to heat and drought, a particularly worrisome development for Egypt — the largest importer of wheat in the world.

"In the coming period, agricultural engineers must become climate engineers as well," Suleiman said.


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