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Desperate Europe-bound migrants turn to Black Sea

Turkish boats of which some transported migrants over the Black Sea and were seized by Romanian border police are pictured in Constanta, southeastern Romania. – AFP

NOCOSIA: While the arrival of exhausted migrants may be common on Mediterranean shores, it’s a rare sight on the Black Sea coastline. But a string of recent arrivals from Turkey suggests it may be emerging as part of a new ‘Romanian route’ to western Europe. Shortly before dawn on Wednesday, around 150 people, a third of them children, were rescued in the Black Sea-the fifth migrant boat to be intercepted by Romanian authorities since mid-August.


The arrival of some 570 Iraqis, Syrians, Afghans, Iranians and Pakistanis in less than a month remains modest compared to the influx recorded in the Mediterranean. In 2014, the last year of relative activity, close to 300 migrants crossed the Black Sea to reach Romania. EU member Romania is not part of the bloc’s passport-free Schengen zone and until now has largely avoided the kind of influx of refugees and migrants seen elsewhere on the continent over the past few years.


The latest developments are being carefully watched in the country. “This seems to indicate that smugglers are trying to find a route through the Black Sea,” Krzysztof Borowski, a spokesman for Frontex, the EU’s border force agency, told AFP.


Smugglers are looking for more affluent migrants to pay the fare for the new route which avoids Greece, where arrivals risk deportation under an agreement between the EU and Ankara, explained Mircea Mocanu, head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Romania.


The crossing between Turkey and Romania can cost between 1,000 and 3,000 euros, he added. However, he is doubtful there will be in an influx of boats during the colder months: “It is ten times more difficult to cross the Black Sea than the Mediterranean Sea.” “It’s the Black Sea, not because of its colour but because of the danger during storms,” said Police Commissioner Gabriel Cerchez, who was part of Tuesday’s rescue. “Until the boat enters the port, it could capsize at any time.”


‘Ready for anything’


Other tests await migrants who dare to make the crossing in a bid to reach western Europe, where reinforced controls and fences make it difficult to cross borders. In Timisoara, close to the border with Hungary, hundreds of migrants are waiting for an opportunity to cross over.  At the immigration centre, Tarek, a 19-year-old Syrian, told AFP he had been stopped while trying to reach the border in a car.


He has decided to stay in Romania to become a computer engineer, but he said many of his friends are “ready to do anything” to leave. “People come and ask: ‘do you want to stay or go? Because I know a way to get to Germany that’s 100 percent safe’,” he said, adding that middle-men get 100 euros for setting up a migrant with a smuggler. Not far from the centre, around 15 men were gathered on wasteland in a makeshift camp, in hope of finding a smuggler.  Among them, Rafi, a 23-year-old Pakistani, and Zakir, a young Afghan, said they crossed from Hungary in to Romania by foot.


A direct crossing from Serbia to Hungary has become almost impossible because of the barbed wire fencing erected between the two countries, while the long Romanian-Hungarian border remains open. According to Romania’s border police, more than 1,200 people attempting to cross the western border have been arrested since the beginning of the year, compared to 900 in for all of 2016.  The IOM estimates that 80 percent of attempts fail. For Tarek, is it a bitter conclusion: “A year and a half of my life has been wasted in the hope of joining the promised land.” – AFP


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