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World

Thousands Of Migrants Stream Through The Balkans In Nonstop Pouring Rain

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It was supposed to end with the onset of winter, but thousands of asylum-seekers are still making their way through the Balkans, trying to get to Germany. Conditions for the refugees and other migrants have become even more miserable than they were this summer. It's getting colder every day, and it's pouring rain. Hungary sealed its last open border over the weekend, closing one of the corridors migrants were using. Now people are trying to get North through Slovenia, but that country is also limiting access. Reporter Lauren Frayer joins us from Cakovec, a town in Croatia near the Slovenian border. And Lauren, describe what's happening there.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Well, this city is about 10 miles from the Slovenian border, and the train station here has become the sort of main transfer point for migrants forging this new corridor much farther West through Europe now, through Croatia and Slovenia. There are tents here set up by the U.N.'s Refugee Agency and the Red Cross.

And as you mentioned, it's been pouring rain all day. Hundreds of people spent the night here. A group of families huddled around a campfire that they'd built burning trash and other debris to keep them warm. It was almost like the sun never rose and set today. It was just constant dark clouds and heavy, heavy rain and, through it all, thousands of people carrying their children, walking northward.

And they're getting backed up, and that's mostly because Slovenia, a tiny country of just 2 million people, says it can only handle 2,500 migrants a day entering its territory. And the numbers arriving here are in the several thousands.

CORNISH: So what happens to the migrants when the border closes?

FRAYER: Well, they're stuck. I just spoke with an aid worker with the UNHCR, the U.N.'s Refugee Agency, who was with a group of several hundred migrants who got stuck in a no-man's land, literally, between Croatia and Slovenia. So Croatia's delivering them to the border by train and bus, but Slovenia wouldn't take this group in. Slovenian police blocked the border today with a metal gate after they'd already let in 2,500 people. And aid groups are frantically trying to negotiate here between the two countries, hoping Slovenia can make an exception to that 2,500 limit and let these people get out of the rain.

And just two days ago, Croatia and Slovenia said they had a plan to work on this. But that communication really seems to be breaking down now. And we've see this with Hungary and its neighbors as well accusing one another of pushing this humanitarian crisis into someone else's territory, forcing other countries to deal with it.

CORNISH: Lauren, in the past, migrants have travelled during the summer, and then the flow is decreased when the weather turned bad. What's happening now?

FRAYER: Well, if anything, the numbers here are growing because there's been a push to travel before Hungary closed its borders, also before the weather turns cold, which it just has. I mean, aid groups here are handing out thin plastic rain ponchos, but it's freezing at night here.

And by the way, this Croatia-Slovenia border where I am isn't the only place where this chaos and overcrowding is happening. You still have boatloads of migrants and refugees arriving in the Greek islands. And just 200 miles east of where I am, thousands of people have been backed up for hours in Serbia trying to get into Croatia. And they're headed here next. So authorities are trying to move people along quickly because they know more are on the way.

CORNISH: That's Lauren Frayer in the Croatian town of Cakovec near the border with Slovenia. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

FRAYER: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.