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Fenced out

A New Age of Walls · Episode 2

Coming Oct. 14

Published Oct. 14, 2016

Until the upheaval of 2015, Europe was home to the world’s most open frontiers. But within months, a messy effort to halt a mass flow of migrants fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan cascaded into the construction of more border fences than anywhere else on the globe. For the most part, the once-open door to Europe has closed.

Published Oct. 14, 2016

About this series

From eight countries across three continents, this series examines the divisions between countries and peoples through interwoven words, video and sound.

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Greece

Historic refugee crisis

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Show transcript

LOAI JEBURI Iraqi refugee

“They closed the borders and we sat there hoping that they would open it again.”

ZIN MAMO Syrian refugee

“Greece, as you know, has a weak economy. It's carrying all these refugees. We are so grateful and we thank them very much. Many people have died back home, and if it wasn't for them we'd also be gone.”

ISSAD ZAKARIA Algerian migrant

“I've already tried three times to enter to Macedonia, and I got beaten in a harsh way. But I’ll keep trying four, five, six times until my dream comes true.”

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At the height of the crisis in 2015, many European nations felt overwhelmed. The sheer number of migrant arrivals — nearly 5,000 a day in southern Europe alone — shocked the continent. 

Some Europeans welcomed the refugees, arguing that they had a moral duty to aid people displaced by war. But fears also surfaced and a backlash grew, especially in such countries as Austria and Hungary.

Schengen area: passport

not required to cross

common borders

AUSTRIA

Main route

5,629

HUNGARY

209

Average daily arrivals

between Oct. 15 and

Dec. 15, 2015

SLOVENIA

5,431

5,343

CROATIA

SERBIA

5,209

BULGARIA

ITALY

TURKEY

MACEDONIA

5,286

GREECE

4,955

100 miles

Average daily

arrivals between

Oct. 15 and Dec.

15, 2015

Main route

Schengen area,

passport not

required in

common borders

5,000

3,000

1,000

HUNGARY

AUSTRIA

SLOV.

CROATIA

SERBIA

BULGARIA

ITALY

MACEDONIA

TURKEY

100 miles

GREECE

Schengen area:

passport not required

to cross common borders

AUSTRIA

5,629

Main route

HUNGARY

209

Average daily arrivals

between Oct. 15 and

Dec. 15, 2015

SLOVENIA

5,343

CROATIA

5,431

ITALY

SERBIA

5,209

BULGARIA

MACEDONIA

5,286

GREECE

TURKEY

4,955

100 miles

Source: UNCHR

The European Union had no system in place to properly vet the newcomers – at a time when jihadists who fought in Syria with the Islamic State were seeking to reenter Europe. The fact that the influx also included economic migrants passing themselves off as asylum seekers did not help.

Facing an influx of more than 3,000 people a day, Hungary built a 109-mile barrier along its border with Croatia. Ultimately, Hungary, a major transit nation, would construct more new miles of fence than any other E.U. nation.

The fences resulted in a huge drop in arrivals to Hungary, but they did not stop migration. Many migrants simply shifted routes and entered neighboring nations. Soon, other countries began to build fences of their own.  

Hungary built a fence on its border with Croatia, cutting off the flow.

ESTIMATED

DAILY ARRIVALS

 

OCT. 16

8,000

4,000

HUNGARY

0

Migrants shifted to Slovenia, which built its own fence.

12,000

NOV. 12

8,000

4,000

SLOVENIA

0

As migrants passed through on their way north, Austria built their own fence in Spielfeld, on their southern border.

DEC 15

4,000

AUSTRIA

0

Hungary built a fence on its border with

Croatia, completely cutting off the flow.

ESTIMATED

DAILY ARRIVALS

 

OCT. 16

8,000

4,000

HUNGARY

0

Migrants shifted to Slovenia,

which built its own fence.

NOV. 12

12,000

8,000

4,000

SLOVENIA

0

As migrants passed through on their

way north, Austria built their own fence

in Spielfeld, on their southern border.

DEC. 15

4,000

AUSTRIA

0

Hungary built a fence on its border with Croatia, completely cutting off the flow.

ESTIMATED

DAILY

ARRIVALS

 

8,000

OCT. 16

4,000

0

HUNGARY

Migrants shifted to Slovenia,

which built its own fence.

12,000

NOV. 12

8,000

4,000

0

SLOVENIA

As migrants passed through on their

way north, Austria built their own fence

in Spielfeld, on their southern border.

DEC. 15

4,000

AUSTRIA

0

Hungary built a fence on its border with Croatia, cutting off the flow.

ESTIMATED

DAILY ARRIVALS

 

OCT. 16

8,000

4,000

HUNGARY

0

Migrants shifted to Slovenia, which built its own fence.

12,000

NOV. 12

8,000

4,000

SLOVENIA

0

As migrants passed through on their way north, Austria built its own fence in Spielfeld, on its southern border.

DEC. 15

4,000

AUSTRIA

0

Hungary built a fence on its border with

Croatia, completely cutting off the flow.

ESTIMATED

DAILY ARRIVALS

 

OCT. 16

8,000

4,000

HUNGARY

0

Migrants shifted to Slovenia,

which built its own fence.

NOV. 12

12,000

8,000

4,000

SLOVENIA

0

As migrants passed through on their

way north, Austria built its own fence

in Spielfeld, on its southern border.

DEC. 15

4,000

AUSTRIA

0

ESTIMATED

DAILY

ARRIVALS

 

Hungary built a fence on its border with

Croatia, completely cutting off the flow.

8,000

OCT. 16

4,000

0

HUNGARY

Migrants shifted to Slovenia,

which built its own fence.

12,000

NOV. 12

8,000

4,000

0

SLOVENIA

As migrants passed through on their

way north, Austria built its own fence

in Spielfeld, on its southern border.

DEC. 15

4,000

AUSTRIA

0

Source: UNCHR

Among the countries facing new pressure was Austria, which had prided itself on welcoming migrants. When fresh crowds of refugees headed from closed-off Hungary toward Austria and Slovenia, Austria’s attitude began to change.

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Spielfeld, Austria

A fearful response

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REINHOLD HÖFLECHNER Conservative mayor of the municipality that includes Spielfeld

“There is not enough space here in Europe. The welcome culture that was customary here at the beginning was an absolute mistake, and now we have to handle the effects. All these people that came over the border were not checked and not registered. No one was asked who they are, what they want, where they want to go, what intentions they have, which is no condition for a constitutional state like Austria.”

“When the military drives around the region with loudspeakers making announcements in Arabic, and go into the villages, you have to understand that people get very concerned The population more or less demanded the fence.”

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Spielfeld, Austria

A fence for order

To instill order to the chaos of haphazard entries, the Austrian government built its own fence and a control station at Spielfeld, on the border with Slovenia. Leo Josefus, an official with the local police on the Austria-Slovenia border, recalls scenes of bedlam at the height of the human flows.

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LEO JOSEFUS Spokesman, Styria Police Department

“Here we are at the direct border between Austria and Slovenia, this gate here. Have a look here, for example, maybe you still remember the scene of Spielfeld when thousands of people — 6,000 — stayed in a field at the same time. It was here. We were under a lot of pressure at that time. The situation was this; we built a border fence. On March 6, the last refugee crossed the border here. Then it stopped.”

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Spielfeld, Austria

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Spielfeld, Austria

A symbolic barrier

Austria’s fence isn’t much to look at; it runs just 3.8 miles in length. One purpose is to funnel migrants toward border controls. But it delivers a clear message:  The doors to Austria are closed and migrants are no longer welcome.

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Spielfeld, Austria

Porous fence

To some locals, though, especially farmers, the fences aren’t an intimidating deterrent — frequent gaps allow people or animals to pass through. With migrant entries at a low, scenes at the fences these days are more pastoral than chaotic.

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Reinforcing the barriers

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It took more than fences, though, before Europe finally slowed the migrant flow.

Most of the fences were built in the final months of 2015, but it wasn’t until February 2016 that the tide of asylum seekers began to ease. The new ingredient was diplomacy, as European countries began to band together instead of simply acting on their own.

Austria again emerged as a key player, as public opinion turned against the still-arriving refugees, swayed by nationalist politicians who portrayed the migrants, most of whom were Muslim, as a cultural invasion.

In early February, with a presidential election looming, Austria sent its foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz, to visit six Balkan countries in six days to build a coalition to limit migration.

Schengen area: passport

not required to cross

common borders

Kurz’s stops

Vienna

FEB. 7

AUSTRIA

HUNGARY

SLOVENIA

SERBIA

CROATIA

Belgrade

BOSNIA &

HERZEGOVINA

Sarajevo

BULGARIA

KOSOVO

Pristina

Podgorica

TURKEY

MONTENEGRO

ITALY

Skopje

MACEDONIA

FEB. 12

Tirana

ALBANIA

GREECE

100 miles

Kurz’s stops

Schengen area: passport

not required to cross

common borders

Vienna

FEB. 7

HUNGARY

AUSTRIA

Belgrade

SLOVENIA

SERBIA

CROATIA

Sarajevo

KOSOVO

BOSNIA &

Pristina

HERZEGOVINA

Podgorica

Skopje

MONTENEGRO

MACEDONIA

Tirana

FEB. 12

100 miles

ALBANIA

GREECE

ITALY

Schengen area: passport

not required to cross

common borders

Vienna

FEB. 7

HUNGARY

AUSTRIA

Kurz’s stops

Belgrade

SLOVENIA

SERBIA

CROATIA

ITALY

Sarajevo

BULGARIA

KOSOVO

BOSNIA &

Pristina

HERZEGOVINA

Podgorica

Skopje

MONTENEGRO

MACEDONIA

Tirana

TURKEY

FEB. 12

ALBANIA

100 miles

GREECE

Source: Austrian Foreign Affairs Ministry

Austria used its influence as a major investor in the Balkans, along with pledges to redouble its support for closer ties between those nations and the E.U., to forge a deal aimed at stemming the flow of refugees. During a stop in Macedonia, the Austrian minister offered police, vehicles and other equipment to help secure its borders.  

In two days, the daily arrivals to these countries dropped to a few dozen.

In the following weeks, the diplomacy would expand to include a deal between the E.U. and Turkey that required Turkish authorities to step up policing along the Aegean coast, where most migrants were setting out for Europe.

This coordinated effort largely worked — reducing the flood of migrants to a trickle and sending a deterrent message to desperate migrants across the Middle East and beyond.

2015

2016

OCT. - DEC.

JAN.

MAR.

MAY

JULY

Most fences

go up

EU-Turkey deal

Kurz’s trip

EST. DAILY

ARRIVALS

 

(Feb. 8 - 12)

NORTH

10,000

FENCE

Dec. 15

5,000

AUSTRIA

0

Oct. 16

HUNGARY

Nov. 12

SLOVENIA

CROATIA

SERBIA

Nov. 28

MACEDONIA

Kurz’s visit to Macedonia on Feb. 12

had an immediate effect.

 

GREECE

In March, the E.U.-Turkey

deal deterred new departures.

SOUTH

2015

2016

OCT.

NOV.

DEC.

JAN.

FEB.

MAR.

APR.

MAY

JUN.

JULY

MOST FENCES GO UP

INTERNATIONAL DEALS

Kurz’s trip

EU-Turkey deal

ESTIMATED

DAILY ARRIVALS

 

(Feb. 8 - 12)

(March 7 signed, March 20 started)

10,000

FENCE

Dec. 15

5,000

North

AUSTRIA

0

By Feb. 16, arrivals to Austria dropped.

Oct. 16

HUNGARY

Nov. 12

SLOVENIA

CROATIA

SERBIA

Nov. 28

MACEDONIA

After Kurz’s visit on Feb. 12, Macedonia closed the border.

The effects were seen in the north after just a few days.

 

South

GREECE

For a month, Greece received refugees that were stuck at the

Macedonian border. The E.U.-Turkey deal deterred new departures.

2015

2016

OCT.

NOV.

DEC.

JAN.

FEB.

MAR.

APR.

MAY

JUN.

JULY

MOST FENCES GO UP

INTERNATIONAL DEALS

Kurz’s trip

E.U.-Turkey deal

(Feb. 8 - 12)

(March 7 signed, March 20 started)

ESTIMATED

DAILY ARRIVALS

 

10,000

FENCE

Dec. 15

5,000

North

AUSTRIA

0

Oct. 16

By Feb. 16, arrivals to Austria dropped.

HUNGARY

Nov. 12

SLOVENIA

CROATIA

SERBIA

Nov. 28

MACEDONIA

After Kurz’s visit on Feb 12, Macedonia closed the border.

The effect was felt across the region after just a few days.

 

South

GREECE

For a month, Greece received refugees that were stuck at the

Macedonian border. The E.U.-Turkey deal deterred new departures.

Source: UNHCR

But the picture is different for those who have been locked out. In Greece, the newly closed border with Macedonia left thousands stranded in miserable camps, stopped by barbed wire and armed guards.

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Idomeni, Greece

Cracking down on migrants

Frustration mounted, erupting in clashes such as one on April 10 between stranded migrants and the Macedonian military. As migrants rushed the border fence, the Macedonians responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, resulting in dozens of injuries, including to children.

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ZIN MAMO Syrian refugee

“We thought about opposing by peaceful protest to open the borders. We did it three or four times, but it didn't work out.”

ZIN MAMO Syrian refugee

“We also tried twice by force. We gained nothing — nothing but despair.”

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Idomeni, Greece

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Idomeni, Greece

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Idomeni, Greece

Stuck at the border

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ZIN MAMO Syrian refugee

“I am 19 years old. I used to study. I finished high school and went to the college of sciences.”

ZIN MAMO Syrian refugee

“I studied biology for the first year but couldn’t continue. I sometimes had to go to Aleppo or Latakia because the situation was terrible with the war.”

“Our family is divided. There are so many expenses.”

“We've never lived like this before.”

“Syria among the rubble is better than this situation.”

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Idomeni, Greece

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Idomeni, Greece

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A moral dilemma

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Some in Europe are now asking whether the new walls are enough. To prevent migrants from crossing the English Channel, Britain is funding construction of a wall in Calais, France. Austria is preparing to erect more barriers if migrant numbers again begin to surge.

From the Middle East to the Arctic Circle, barriers are up. Arrivals are down:

E.U. Schengen states

RUSSIA

Schengen areas where border controls were reintroduced

ICELAND

Barrier along the border

NORWAY

Partial barrier

FINLAND

Main routes

SWEDEN

ESTONIA

LATVIA

Border enforcement has reduced the sea arrivals registered in 2016 to just one third of those registered in 2015. The death rate has tripled.

DENMARK

LITHUANIA

POLAND

IRELAND

U.K.

NETHERLANDS

GERMANY

BELGIUM

CZECH REP.

SLOVAKIA

HUNGARY

AUSTRIA

SWITZ.

FRANCE

ROMANIA

SLOVENIA

CROATIA

SERBIA

BOSNIA

BULGARIA

ITALY

MACEDONIA

TURKEY

PORTUGAL

-

SYRIA

SPAIN

GREECE

MOROCCO

ALGERIA

TUNISIA

ISRAEL

LIBYA

E.U. Schengen states

RUS.

NORWAY

Schengen areas where border controls were reintroduced

Barrier along the border

SWEDEN

Partial barrier

FINLAND

Main routes

ESTONIA

Border enforcement has reduced the sea arrivals registered in 2016 to just one third of those registered in 2015. The death rate has tripled.

LATVIA

DENMARK

LITHUANIA

POLAND

GERMANY

CZECH REP.

SLOVAKIA

HUNGARY

AUSTRIA

ROMANIA

SLOVENIA

CROATIA

SERBIA

BOSNIA

BULGARIA

ITALY

MACEDONIA

TURKEY

SYRIA

GREECE

ISRAEL

LIBYA

E.U. Schengen states

RUSSIA

Schengen areas where border controls were reintroduced

Barrier along the border

NORWAY

Partial barrier

FINLAND

Main routes

SWEDEN

ESTONIA

LATVIA

Border enforcement has reduced the sea arrivals registered in 2016 to just one-third of those registered in 2015. The death rate has tripled.

DENMARK

LITHUANIA

POLAND

NETHERLANDS

GERMANY

BELGIUM

CZECH REP.

SLOVAKIA

FRANCE

HUNGARY

AUSTRIA

SWITZ.

ROMANIA

SLOVENIA

CROATIA

SERBIA

BOSNIA

BULGARIA

ITALY

MACEDONIA

TURKEY

SYRIA

GREECE

ISRAEL

TUNISIA

LIBYA

There is reason for uneasiness. The E.U. deal with Turkey to halt the flow across the Aegean Sea is in danger of falling apart. European nations are charging Ankara with human rights abuses following a failed July coup attempt. Turkey has threatened to scrap the deal unless the E.U. honors its pledge to grant Turkish citizens visa-free access to the bloc.

The heavy weight of terrorism also hangs over the discussions, after revelations that attackers in  Paris and Brussels entered Europe disguised as migrants. A wave of sexual assaults in Germany last New Year’s Eve has further inflamed anti-immigrant sentiment.

And yet, a continent that prided itself as the global standard-bearer for human rights is also confronting a moral dilemma. A plan to resettle migrants stranded in Greece has broken down as European countries reneged on pledges to accept them, and Greek officials have been slow to process asylum claims. Although the E.U. offered to relocate 66,000 migrants, it has so far absorbed only 4,134.

And those left behind appear willing to take fresh risks despite the new obstacles rising in their paths. Many will employ dangerous smugglers — precisely a pattern the Europeans say they were trying to break.

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Idomeni, Greece

A window for smugglers

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CHARLOTTE VESTLI Founder, Northern Lights Humanitarian Aid

“Every day we have people who said goodbye, I’m leaving now and we are going to cross the border today and they come back one or two days later telling that they had a not-so-very-pleasant meeting with the police in Macedonia. And we also know families that have crossed or tried to cross by smugglers that they have been picked up here by night.”

“They get picked up here either by taxis or private cars and driven through the woods and then they have to wait for a while there and someone else comes to pick them up. I think now they are thinking that this is their only chance. That they have to spend their last money to get smuggled over.”

ZIN MAMO Syrian refugee

“Everyone says “Hey, we found a smuggler” and stuff like that. I even thought at some point, to be honest, we thought about walking for 15 days through the mountains to reach Austria. We thought we would walk together on our own. We would bring together 30 people we know, and follow the GPS for 15 days without being caught. Even this thought crossed our minds. We actually gathered and wanted to do it, but they said that the mountains are dangerous, so we didn't go.”

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Idomeni, Greece

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Idomeni, Greece

Getting past the barriers

Like many others, Mamo decided to take the risk and leave. She embodies the fears, frustrations and challenges that asylum seekers fleeing war and poverty are still facing. Her journey is a metaphor for what was accomplished, what remains undone, and the limbo that so many have been left in.

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Breaking through

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It took many tries and nearly two years before Mamo and four of her siblings finally made it all the way from Aleppo, Syria, to Vienna, in the heart of Europe.

On their first five attempts, they were sent back and beaten by Turkish soldiers when they tried to cross the border from Syria. On their next try, they entered Turkey, but their travail was only beginning. They were exploited and conned in Turkey, which oppresses Kurds like them. They lost their money to smugglers, and they had to work for 18 months before they saved enough to continue. From Turkey they tried to cross the Bulgarian border twice, but they were sent back.They split up to cross by sea to Greece. Two of the sisters made it to Austria before the borders closed, but Mamo, another sister and a brother found themselves among those stranded on the Greek-Macedonian border.

It took two more months before they were smuggled across the militarized fence and walked for 15 days through Macedonia and Serbia. They waited 40 more days to be registered at the Hungarian border, and then they were smuggled again to Austria.

Today, Mamo and her siblings are together in Austria — but their parents are still in Syria, with no way to flee.

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Reyhanli, Turkey

Construction continues

Turkey, too, has been building a concrete wall — this one on its southern border with Syria. This new barrier, along with so many others, has made it impossible for Mamo’s parents and hundreds of thousands like them to escape relentless war. Europe, too, is raising more fences —  with Norway building one to stop migrants coming via Russia, and Britain and France putting up a barrier in Calais. Their message is clear: Keep out.

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Credits

A project by Samuel Granados, Zoeann Murphy, Kevin Schaul and Anthony Faiola

Editing

Kat Downs, Reem Akkad and Douglas Jehl

Additional reporting

Joshua Partlow, Stephanie Kirchner, William Booth and Ruth Eglash

Additional photos and footage

AP, Drone Media Studio, and Anadolu Ajansi

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