Migrants are enduring freezing temperatures to cross mountainous terrain in their desperate attempts to reach France and the UK in spite of increasing border restrictions as a result of the pandemic.
Faced with rising Covid infections and Brussels’ ever-dysfunctional vaccine roll-out, EU capitals have been closing their borders to try and stem the flow of traffic from neighbouring countries. Earlier this week, the European Commission put six member states in the dock for closing their frontiers.
Today, it was announced Germany had designated its side of the Moselle bordering France as “at particularly high risk of infection due to widespread occurrence of SARS-CoV-2 virus variants”. From March 2nd, travellers crossing that section of the border will have to show proof they are Covid negative.
In spite of the EU’s desperate cries to keep borders open, a foundational principle that Eurocrats obsessively try to uphold, Berlin is forging ahead. Similar restrictions along the border with Austria and the Czech Republic have already been put in place. Only German residents and commuters are allowed to cross.
The dramatic shift from an open to a closed Europe has forced illegal immigrants to adapt their routes from Italy and the Balkans towards far western Europe.
Sky News has discovered that in spite of the challenging conditions and restrictions, migrants are choosing to cross the Alps in order to reach France. They typically travel at night when conditions and visibility are at their worst as they try and evade interception by the French Gendarme. The Red Cross has intercepted 1,500 since temperatures began to plunge in October.
“Unfortunately there have been cases of migrants who were rescued with serious injuries, serious hypothermia,” said volunteer rescue worker, Michele Belmondo.
Not knowing the risks they are taking, migrants often suffer “permanent injuries” including having their fingers amputated as a result of frostbite.
Belmondo added: “Initially it used to be young migrants of African origin, often francophones who tried to join France and other European countries.
“Starting some months ago, in 2020, the type of migrants passing in this area has changed a bit, there are many families, often with children who come down the Balkan route, so the main nationalities are Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi.”
The Gendarme are trapped in a vicious cycle of catching migrants aboard their snowmobiles and returning them to Italy. After a couple of hours of detention, the migrants are usually released, free to have another crack at crossing the border.
“In France is good life. No war,” said migrant Amir Hotak, 23 who has travelled through Iran, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia and neighbouring Slovenia before finally making it to Italy.
But for how many is the final destination Britain?
The desperate and increasing attempts to cross alpine borders is mirrored by the extraordinary rise in efforts to cross the Channel aboard flimsy dinghies in treacherous conditions.
Yesterday, another 87 migrants landed illegally in the UK, the day before, it was 33. In both instances, French patrol boats stopped other attempts. On Saturday they caught 51 of them before they could reach Dover’s shores.
Arrival figures are now up a whopping 86% on 2020, itself a record year for illegal crossings. 2021 will break last year’s tally, say Migration Watch
The UK is on course to see 16,177 boat migrants landing in the UK this year – a 54-fold increase on 2018 numbers.
Earlier this week, Hungary’s no-nonsense leader, Viktor Orbán blamed the EU for incentivizing dangerous migrant journeys to Europe, exploited by ruthless people smugglers.
“They believe that they would be awaited here with open arms,” Orbán told German mag, Focus. “They want a European life, but in the end, they end up in the hands of the gangs of smugglers. The wrong European pull factor policy has turned the Mediterranean Sea into a graveyard.”
And once they’ve crossed the Med, they’ve now got the Alps to deal with.