Thousands of migrants from poor and war-torn countries traveling toward northern Europe face a long, wet, cold journey as winter weather begins to close in on the continent.
Some half million people, mainly from the Middle East and Africa, have arrived in Europe since the beginning of this year. Most travel from Turkey or Libya by boat to Greece, Spain, or Italy, where temperatures are still balmy. But further down the road, in the Balkans and Central Europe, a sudden cold front is now catching many by surprise.
Near Zakany border crossing in Hungary, hundreds of migrants, including children and the elderly, trekked through heavy rain and thick mud after the Croatian authorities bussed them into the countryside and then waved them in the direction of the neighboring country. Many, wearing thin jackets and flimsy flip-flops, were woefully unprepared for the early morning hike. Others held up children's umbrellas or wore plastic ponchos that were distributed by an aid organization at the camp where they spent the previous night.
"We're cold, hungry and we don't know even know what country we're in at this moment," 27-year-old Bashar Ali told VICE News. "Everything I'm wearing is wet. All our bags with the clothes in are wet… [and] my wife's shoes are leaking." Like many in the field, Ali's feet and sandals were caked in sludge from the walk.
Similar scenes played out on the Croatian border with Serbia where a crowd was left in no man's land limbo after buses just deposited them at the side of the road. With no transport on hand to move on into the next country around 500 people, including families with young children and babies, faced a two-hour wait in windy fields with no shelter.
Thrusting forward to the front of the crowd, Mahmoud Bas from Damascus in Syria called out for a doctor to help his young son who had fallen into a faint while waiting in the cold. "It's so hot on the bus, then cold and rain out here, it's making the children sick, everyone is just tired, exhausted, totally exhausted," he said, as volunteer medics splashed water on seven-year-old Mohammed's face and gave him sugar. Others waiting in the wind-whipped field included an elderly woman in a wheelchair paralyzed from the waist down and a mother who sobbed as she sat in the mud cradling her seven year-old son who has a muscle wasting disorder.
In the makeshift medical center of a transit camp on the Serbian side of the Croatian border, Dr. Andja Rosic said she had seen a sharp spike in people suffering from flu, colds, and temperatures in recent days because of the wet weather and dip in temperatures. "It's not so serious for healthy adults but for babies, children, the elderly, the injured there can be complications, especially from a fever," she told VICE News. "Winter is going to be tough on those still traveling, particularly for those who have to sleep outside."
A high-level meeting on migration and refugees was held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session on Wednesday, with the German foreign minister and Turkish prime minister both speaking about a long-term strategy for handling the mass influx of people. The European Union has been deeply divided over the crisis with countries squabbling over rules for registering asylum claims, quotas and border closures.
The UN recently warned that with 5,000 people still arriving in Greece every day the flow of people may continue all winter at a similar rate, despite the increased dangers of the boat crossing during rough seas.
The journey west may also be further complicated by more border closures. The Hungarian authorities have said they are just days away from completing some 250 miles of razor wire and steel fencing on their southern frontier that will prevent migrants using the country as a corridor to the west of the continent.