Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Europe refugee crisis: how travelers can cope

With the influx of Syrian refugees into Europe, you may be asking how it’ll affect your travel. A lot, in fact. The refugees are flooding into Greece and they want to move on to settle in Germany. Thus, all the routes from Greece to Germany are somehow affected, whether you are travelling by train, bus or car. When we were in Europe from mid-September to mid-October 2015, the policy in each country seemed to change from day to day. Germany said they welcome all refugees, suddenly they want to limit the asylum applications processing and shut the border. All trains could not be booked for an unspecified period. Buses were limited. We arrived in Munich on bus from Ljubljana after experiencing heavy traffic due to security checks on the highways. We wanted to go to Salzburg and had to connect in Munich. We were nervous with the identification checks on the highway as we do not know what to expect.

It was hilarious in a way as the police officers doing the security checks had no idea what they were doing. We noticed that for most of the security checks on board the buses, they’ll usually gave both of us a cursory look as we are Asians. On the bus to Munich, one of the officers suddenly demanded to know where was the visa on one of our passports. We were confused. One of us is Malaysian while the other is Singaporean. We knew we do not need visa to Germany or Austria. Has the regulation changed while we were on the road? Stupefied, we gaped at the officer. The officer pointed at the other passport, stabbing at a visa sticker on one of the pages. “This, this! Why you don’t have?” We took a closer look. It was an expired visa for Egypt, a work trip long time ago -_- Losing confidence, in ourselves and the officer, we explained hesitantly we do not need visa; the visa on the passport was for Egypt. The officer gave us back our passports and turned away -_-

When we were back in Salzburg Hauptbahnhof a few days later to make our way to Zurich, we came across large presence of police and soldiers. They were standing around waiting. There were Red Cross tents set up outside the station. We were trying our luck for a coach to take us to Zurich at 9pm. It never came but we managed to score a BlaBlaCar to take us the following morning. We decided not to look for a bed already and just hang around the station overnight. It was 1°C but felt colder. We were shuffling our feet trying to get warm and suddenly saw refugees being escorted by the police and soldiers. We guess they just arrived by train and were being taken to an asylum application processing centre. They were dressed in winter wear, most of them carrying small backpacks, duffel bags and plastic bags. They lined up in twos or threes and walked hurriedly from one end of the station to the other end where a bus was waiting. We felt ashamed for moaning about the transport disruption and forgetting there were people losing their homes.

So our suggestion is this: if you’re traveling in the Balkans, Germany and Austria, plan your route with back up arrangement. If you expect to connect a train or bus, be prepared to miss it as the train might be cancelled or there may be heavy traffic due to security checks. You may have to stay extra days waiting for the next transport or just change the mode – from train to bus, or from bus to car. When we took BlaBlaCar from Salzburg to Zurich, our driver knew which highway to take to avoid the heavy traffic. With all the disruption, it was a bit of inconvenience but we wouldn’t mind doing it again. Europe is worth it!

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