BELGRADE, Serbia — Mohammad Bilal sways on a swing in the Bogovadja asylum center in central Serbia, a government-run facility that has been the Afghan teenager’s temporary home. He lives here with 55 other unaccompanied children. All are migrants between the ages of 10 and 18.
Bilal, 17, arrived in Serbia in March, after more than a year making his way from Afghanistan through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece and Macedonia. His family poured all their savings into sending him out of Afghanistan in search of a better life.
In Iran, he says, human smugglers squeezed him into the trunk of a car with four other boys.
“I was sure that was my last day on earth,” he told NPR in the spring. “It was boiling inside. I prayed to God to help me. Then Iranian border police beat me very hard before telling me to go to Turkey.”
Bilal is one of the over 1.5 million refugees and migrants who have crossed into the country since the start of the humanitarian crisis in 2015, fueled by Syria’s war. In that year alone, around 550,000 registered migrants transited through Serbia, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. [See The Ful Article]