KRNJACA, Serbia — She has wide brown eyes, rosy cheeks and thick black hair. Her name is Serbia Merkel al-Mustafa.
Serbia for the country where she was born just a few days ago, Merkel for the leader of Germany, where her Syrian refugee parents want to go in their desperate attempt to escape the war at home.
The al-Mustafa family is among hundreds of refugees stuck in Serbia after Austria and several Balkan nations shut their borders to migrants this winter. But the route that saw one million people reach Western Europe last year seems to be picking up in pace once again ‚Äî and the family of four has high hopes of reaching their dream location soon.
“Inshallah, we will be in Germany one day,” Jaafar, the proud father, said Thursday as he caressed his tiny daughter’s cheeks inside a cramped room with bunk beds at a drab refugee camp near Belgrade, the Serbian capital.
“We walked across mountains, nearly drowned in the rough seas,” Jaafar said, holding the baby as mother Rasmyah tenderly watched after leaving a Belgrade maternity hospital just a day before. “Nothing will stop us now.”
Serbia Merkel is just one of many who have been born during the largest exodus into Europe since World War II. And she is not the only one named after Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, for her welcoming policies toward migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
But since the closure of the Balkan migration route and a European Union deal with Turkey to deport some migrants back there, things have gone sour for the migrants. Thousands have been stuck in Greece, many camping in appalling conditions on the border with Macedonia, and thousands more have been forced to turn to human traffickers.
Jaafar al-Mustafa, a 27-year-old who walks with a metal cane, thinks Macedonian police let them into the country from Greece because they felt pity for the family that also included 20 month-old Sarah and his heavily pregnant wife, 23-year-old Rasmyah.
“We have walked most of the way to Serbia,” he said. “My wife started getting pains while walking. Lucky we made it to here before she started giving birth.”
The migrants stuck in Serbia, including many children, are trying to figure out how to proceed deeper into Europe. Most hope to cross into Hungary and then Austria, despite those governments’ tough stances toward refugees.
Among those is Diaa Alaf, 23, a Syrian who left Aleppo four months ago and is travelling with her 15-month-old daughter. She hopes to reach Austria, where her parents are already established. Smugglers took her from the squalid camp at Idomeni, on Greece’s northern border, through Macedonia to the Serbian camp along with two other families, 22 people in all, each paying 310 euros ($350).
“We came into Serbia in a group with smugglers,” Alaf said. “Now we heard we can go with smugglers to Hungary, but also we are hearing the Hungarians are letting in families with children, around 30 people per day.”
Their journey could face further obstacles, with Hungarian police saying they are arresting about 130 migrants a day for crossing the border illegally.
“I just want this horror to end,” said Alaf.