Villagers and security forces rescued 31 Syrian migrants, including 13 children, near Turkey's border with Bulgaria early Friday. Refugees were stranded in an area amid heavy rainfall and chilling temperatures when one of them managed to reach a nearby village to ask for help for those who could not advance due to heavy mud impeding their route.
Refugees told gendarmerie troops who found them that they had managed to sneak into Bulgaria from the Turkish city of Edirne, but Bulgarian border guards intercepted and sent them on foot back to Turkey, state-run Anadolu Agency (AA) reported.
Rescue crews brought food, warm drinks and blankets to the migrants who suffered from hypothermia. They were later relocated to a shelter in Edirne. The refugees said they did not eat anything for two days.
Edirne borders Greece and Bulgaria and is one of the only land routes to Europe from Turkey. Over the past two months, some 2,000 migrants have been intercepted by security forces as they attempted to sneak into Europe from the city, along with 40 human smugglers.
The land route is not as popular as the sea route for migrants as it is more strictly guarded and longer unlike the sea route that offers a shorter journey from Turkey to Greece for migrants. Nevertheless, the sea route via the Aegean is potentially more dangerous for migrants, as it claimed hundreds of lives last year because overcrowded dinghies cannot endure the rough sea conditions, especially in winter.
Last fall, Edirne saw an immense flow of refugees that tried to reach Europe from Istanbul upon reports that European countries would admit more refugees. Hundreds of people had traveled to the city by bus and on foot from Istanbul only to be intercepted by security forces that set up checkpoints at the city limits to block the influx. Migrants only stopped their exodus after negotiating with the government.
Bulgaria is one of the main gateways for migrants from Syria, other Middle Eastern countries and Asian countries to Europe, which is battling the worst migration crisis since World War II with tens of thousands of people fleeing conflicts and poverty trying to reach the continent by sea and land. Last month, more than 62,000 migrants entered Europe through Greece, Bulgaria's neighbor, while no concrete figures are available for Bulgaria. In 2015, some 20,000 migrants, a majority of them Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, were registered in Bulgaria.