Why are migrants from India attempting to reach the EU via ′Balkan route?′ | Asia | An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 24.02.2022

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Why are migrants from India attempting to reach the EU via 'Balkan route?'

Officials in Serbia say more people from India have been joining migrants from other South Asian countries in trying to reach the EU by irregular means over the past few months.

Men playing cricket

Men from South Asia play cricket at a migrant camp in Serbia

In the Serbian border city of Kikinda, located close to Hungary and Romania, about 100 Indian migrants are living in a reception center after being denied entry into the European Union.

Its proximity to two EU member states makes Kikinda a popular destination for migrants.

"We have 540 beds in the center, but 550 migrants have been staying here at the moment. That means we are over capacity now. Three hundred and sixty of them came from Bangladesh, and around a 100 from India," Andreja Marcenko, the camp's admissions officer, told DW.

"It's a new trend. Indians have been coming here since the last few months," Marcenko said. 

The camp, which only houses men, is managed by Serbia's refugee agency, with support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The camp has a sports ground where the mainly South Asian migrants can play cricket.

Indians take irregular route to Europe for economic reasons

'Mistreated' by police

Harjinder Kumar, 39, from India's Punjab state, told DW that he arrived in Serbia several months ago. He said he fell into debt after taking on loans to pay for his mother's medical treatment.

"I have come to Serbia hoping to reach the EU one day. After going there, I will repay every loan that I took in the past," he said.

Kumar's several attempts to enter the European Union have failed. He said he feels stuck in Serbia after losing around €2,000 ($2,299) he paid to human traffickers for the illegal journey.

Kumar cooks and sells chicken biryani to his fellow migrants at the camp. "It's pocket money for some of my friends and me here," he said.

A man sitting in a migrant camp

Harjinder Kumar wants to work in the EU to pay off medical bills. He sells biryani at the camp to make pocket money

Though many of the migrants stay inside the center's main building, most of the Indians live in a big white tent set up at a corner of the compound. Officials did not say why there is a separate location set up to house Indian migrants.

Jasbir Singh, 27, said he came to Serbia a few months ago after failing to get a job in India. Singh said he paid around €12,000 to human traffickers in an attempt to enter the EU.

Like Kumar, Singh comes from India's northern state of Punjab. Singh said he tried to cross into the EU illegally at Hungary, Romania, and Croatia. All of his attempts failed due to strict border controls carried out by the EU border agency Frontex and border police.

He also said he had been been mistreated by police at the borders.

"European police don't respect us. They even remove our turban during checking and forcefully grab and shake our beards. They also take off our clothes and force us to walk back to Serbia in the extreme cold weather," Singh told DW. 

A man in front of a white tent

Jasbir Singh said he was mistreated by border police while attempting to cross into the EU

For years, migrants have accused border forces in Croatia, Hungary and Romania of carrying out violent "pushbacks."

Why are Indians taking the 'Balkan route'

In 2015 and 2016, hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants, mainly escaping conflict in the Middle East, made their way through Greece, an EU member state, and continued through Bosnia and Serbia to reach countries such as Germany. It soon became known as the "Balkan route."

Since 2017, more migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan have attempted to enter the European Union illegally via the Balkans. For Indian citizens, Serbia is the only country in Europe that allows visa-free entry, making it a popular destination.

"Since 2017, they don't need a visa to come to Serbia for a short-term stay. Indians are flying directly to Belgrade. And, from here, they have been trying to get to the EU countries," Marcenko said.

EU Border Pushbacks

Some Indian migrants have also attempted to stay in Greece. Earlier this month, a group of 16 migrants were detained by police in North Macedonia trying to cross into the EU at the Greek border.

Other Indian migrants also try to enter Croatia from Bosnia-Herzegovina, as they say crossing the border between Serbia and Bosnia illegally is relatively easy.  

Dozens of Indians live at the Lipa migrant camp in the Bosnian border city of Bihac. Indian migrants told DW that they came to Bosnia in the hope of reaching the EU for to economic reasons.

"I crossed the EU border and entered Croatia two times last month," Vupindar, an Indian migrant at the Lipa camp, told DW.

"My attempt to reach the EU was not successful. Croatian police deported me back to Bosnia," he said.

"I haven't paid any money to human traffickers to arrange my journey to the EU. I'm using Google Maps to reach it on my own," he added.

Vupindar said trying to get into the European Union from Balkan countries illegally was not safe and not recommended.

"If I had a job in India, I wouldn’t have come to Bosnia like this," Vupindar said.

Child migrants in danger in Serbia

Edited by: Wesley Rahn