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Migrant Lives

A New Clandestine Crossing Into The EU, Via Serbia

At the border between Serbia and Hungary, the number of illegal arrivals has increased dramatically over the past few months. Syrians and Afghans who take the road in the Balkans cross paths with migrating Kosovars.

Migrants driving through the serbo-hungarian border
Migrants driving through the serbo-hungarian border
Maryline Baumard

SUBOTICA — At regular intervals, thick smoke emerges from the fire and interrupts the sleepy atmosphere. Eyelids open and words are exchanged to forget, if only briefly, the weariness that fills the brickyard. This abandoned factory in the Serbian town of Subotica is shared by Afghans, Pakistanis and Syrians traveling through the Balkans, and is used as a resting place before entering the Schengen Area, represented by the 26 European countries that have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their common borders.

On this day, about 30 Syrians and Iraqis are trying to warm up around a fire alongside 20 Afghans. People check their flashlights while awaiting a text from the smuggler. "Taxis are waiting for us on the other side of the border, and we are going to Austria," says Nabil, a 46-year-old Syrian man, adding that the passing and the drive will cost around $1,500 per person.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Inside Russia’s Revival Of Stalinist “Filtration Camps”

Though different than concentration camps constructed by Nazis, the “filtration” facilities nevertheless recalls a brutal history, and have been reopened under Putin, and ramped up since the invasion of Ukraine.

Civilians leaving Mariupol on foot

Anna Akage

"It was like a true concentration camp."

This is how Oleksandr, a 49-year-old man from Mariupol, described where he and his wife Olena were taken in by Russian security officers. Speaking to a reporter for the BBC, the couple was fingerprinted, photographed and interrogated for hours, and their phones searched for material that could somehow identify them as “Nazis.”

But there is another name given to that these locations, and the process, that have been set up to handle Ukrainians taken into custody in areas occupied by pro-Russian separatists: They’re called: “filtration camps.”

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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