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Migrants Arrive On Slovenia-Austria Border


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Tens of thousands of migrants and refugees are surging through the Balkans on their way to northern Europe. They hope to get there before winter sets in or before countries close their borders. Lauren Frayer has been traveling with migrants along the trail through Europe, and we join her now along the Slovenia-Austria border. Lauren, thanks for being with us.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: What's it look like there? What are you seeing?

FRAYER: Well, I'm standing in no man's land, between Slovenia and Austria, where thousands of people are waiting to cross the border. There's been a break in the rain. It's still cold, but the sun is shining here. Many of these people have been traveling two weeks or more by bus, train, foot. And they're on the verge of crossing their very last country before reaching Germany, the hoped-for destination for most. And so the relief here is really palpable. I mean, the sun is out. There are a lot of smiles. Austrian soldiers are handing out candy to the children.

This is really in stark contrast to the muddy misery that they've experienced crossing Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. But it's not over yet. Buses are arriving slowly. They're taking 50 people at a time, and hundreds more are still pouring in from Slovenia to the south. Some people have slept here for three days. There is a heated tent to house them, but many don't want to lose their place in line and miss the chance to get on the bus.

SIMON: Who are these people from around the world with whom you've been traveling?

FRAYER: There are many, many Syrians. There are also many Afghans. But there are also people from places as far as Sudan, Mali in northwest Africa. The Syrians here are people who tell me they had planned to wait out the war. You know, the Syrian war is in its fifth year. These are people who didn't want to walk to Europe. They weren't among the first to flee. And here's one man, Abdul Karam Mohamad, from Idlib in northwest Syria, explaining why he left when he did.

ABDUL KARAM MOHAMAD: Russia airplane bomb city and village, especial in Idlib and Hama. Eleven days ago, I decide to come to Germany or Netherlands to complete my study and search a good future in Europe.

FRAYER: So he's fleeing those Russian bombing raids that began late last month. But just next to him, in the tent here, I met another Syrian, a Christian from Damascus. And right here in this refugee camp, a little political argument broke out. Here's that man, Syrian Lazarus Azar.

LAZARUS AZAR: No, that's wrong - that wrong. The Russian help the Syrian. The Islamic groups so bad. Syria was so beautiful. But now everybody want to go out because he don't know any time will die or family die.

FRAYER: So both of these men say they're fleeing for their lives. But they're from opposite sides of the Syrian civil war. You know, one supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and one opposes him. And now these men find themselves sleeping on cots right next to each other in this camp. I've met other Syrians who refuse to talk about politics at all. They say it's just too sensitive. You know, you meet a fellow Syrian here, and you don't know whether he's friend or foe.

SIMON: Lauren, Slovenia's a small country, as I don't have to tell you. How does it wind up being the crossroads for this migrant crisis?

FRAYER: Well, Hungary closed its borders, the Croatian border a week ago and the Serbian one last month, so migrants have been forced to move hundreds of miles westward trying to find another route toward Austria and then Germany. Slovenia has absorbed more than 50,000 migrants in the past week. I followed one group from Croatia into Slovenia and now here to the Austrian border. And I can tell you, the Slovenian camps are overflowing. There's not enough hot food or beds. People are sleeping outdoors in temperatures that hover around freezing at night.

SIMON: Lauren Frayer, thanks so much.

FRAYER: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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