Young migrants survive on their own in Serbia

Young migrants survive on their own in Serbia

In an abandoned warehouse in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, Rasool, a 12-year-old from Jalalabad, Afghanistan, has spent the last six months sleeping on the ground, warming himself by fires, showering with cold water and eating meals distributed by aid groups.

"This place is so cold and dirty, the smoke from burning fires hurts my eyes and lungs," he said. "I close my eyes every night and open them in the morning wishing to hear from my elder friends that the border is open and leave to be with my cousins in London."


In this Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minor Rasool, 12, center, a migrant from Jalalabad, Afghanistan, laughs while sitting with older migrants around a fire in an abandoned warehouse where they took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)


He's among dozens of minors, mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, living in the warehouse with hundreds of other, older migrants. Their parents sent them alone to Europe in search of better futures, but they have been stuck in Serbia, unable to cross the heavily guarded borders of neighboring EU nations Croatia and Hungary.

Governments along the so-called Balkan migration route last year closed down their borders as part of efforts to stem a huge influx of migrants. Previously, people arrived by boat or land from Turkey, then could walk or take trains or buses and cross borders freely from eastern Europe to destinations in western Europe.

Since borders closed last March, thousands of migrants have been stranded in Serbia, waiting for them to reopen or trying to scrape together enough money to pay smugglers to take them.

Rasool says his mother and father supported his efforts to leave Afghanistan because the Taliban made it unsafe and he wanted to study and have a peaceful life.


Thousands of minors became stranded in Europe when the Balkan border closed last year. Many have sought shelter in an abandoned warehouse. Among the migrants are dozens of unaccompanied minors, some as young as twelve. This video was shot by Muhammed Muheisen and edited by Emily Leshner. 


"I miss my parents so much," he said.

Liaqat, a 12-year-old from Khogyani, Afghanistan, said he left nine months ago, traveling to Pakistan and then on through Iran, Turkey and Bulgaria before arriving in Serbia. He and three new friends do everything together, and he's learned how to cook.

"If we don't cook ourselves we will be hungry," he said, stirring rice, potatoes and onions over the fire. "I am hoping to reach Belgium if they open the border, a beautiful country where I can be safe, study and become a doctor to help people."

Caesar, a 16-year old from Pakistan's tribal area of Bajaur, offered the daily Muslim afternoon prayer at the spot where he sleeps in the warehouse, then talked about how the minors on their own help take care of each other, with the older ones guiding the younger ones.

"It is difficult to live under these circumstances but still safer than hometowns here we live in fear for our lives," he said.


In this Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minor Tasawor, 17, a migrant from Afghanistan, shaves outside an abandoned warehouse where he and other migrants took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 photo, migrants including unaccompanied minors shield from the cold around fires in an abandoned warehouse where they took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Friday, Feb. 3, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minor Caesar, 16, a migrant from Pakistan's tribal area of Bajaur, prays in an abandoned warehouse where he and other migrants took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minor Mohammed, 16, a migrant from Jalalabad, Afghanistan, sits around a fire to shield from the evening cold in an abandoned warehouse where he and other migrants took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 photo, a 14-year old unaccompanied minor, a migrant from Afghanistan, showers on a cold day near an old train carriage where he and other migrants took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minor Liaqat, 12, a migrant from Khogyani, Afghanistan, cooks on a fire in an abandoned warehouse where he and other migrants took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minor Murad, 12, a migrant from Laghman, Afghanistan rests on the ground of an abandoned warehouse where he and other migrants took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minors, Shams, 13, a migrant from Laghman, Afghanistan, center wearing a black and white shirt and Amir, 14, a migrant from Peshawar, Pakistan, stand next to other migrants shaving using a hand-mirror outside an abandoned warehouse where they took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minor, Ali, 12, a migrant from Jalalabad, Afghanistan, left wearing a red pants, queue for food outside an abandoned warehouse where he and other migrants took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Friday, Feb. 3, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minor Amir, 14, a migrant from Peshawar, Pakistan, sits around a fire to warm himself from the morning cold in an abandoned warehouse where he and other migrants took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minor Liaqat, 12, a migrant from Khogyani, Afghanistan, sleeps on the ground inside a makeshift room made of blankets in an abandoned warehouse where he and other migrants took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minor Obaidullah, 14, a migrant from Wardak, Afghanistan, warms his legs and hands around a fire in an abandoned warehouse where he and other migrants took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minor Ehsanullah, 14, a migrant from Jalalabad, Afghanistan, washes himself in a hole in the ground outside an old train carriage where he and other migrants took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minor Obaidullah, 14, a migrant from Wardak, Afghanistan, sleeps on the ground of an abandoned warehouse where he and other migrants took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minor, Ali, 12, a migrant from Jalalabad, Afghanistan, sits while cooking on a fire in an abandoned warehouse where he and other migrants took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)  

In this Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minor, Ali, 12, a migrant from Jalalabad, Afghanistan, sits while cooking on a fire in an abandoned warehouse where he and other migrants took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minor Amir, 14, a migrant from Peshawar, Pakistan is helped by other migrants to wash his hair while his friend Liaqat, 12, right waits his turn, in an abandoned warehouse where they took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minor, Irfan, 17, a migrant from Pakistan's tribal area of Bajaur, stands in an abandoned warehouse where he and other migrants took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minor Matiuallah, 14, a hearing impaired and unable to speak migrant from Afghanistan, warms his feet by a fire shortly after arriving from the Bulgarian border to an abandoned warehouse in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017 photo, unaccompanied minors, right, sleep on the ground with older ones in an abandoned warehouse where they took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

In this Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017 photo, a pants of an unaccompanied minor is left with other laundry belonging to migrants on a tree to dry outside an abandoned warehouse where they took refuge in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 


Text from the AP news story, AP Photos: Young migrants survive on their own in Serbia by Muhammed Muheisen.

Muhammed Muheisen is The Associated Press' chief photographer for the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Muhammed Muheisen on Instagram

Follow AP photographers on Twitter

See these photos on APImages

Written content on this site is not created by the editorial department of AP, unless otherwise noted.