The Balkan Route became a popular passageway into the EU in 2012 when Schengen visa restrictions were relaxed for five Balkan countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
In 2013, some 20,000 people crossed the Hungarian border illegally. Nearly all of them applied for asylum after crossing. They were encouraged by a change to Hungarian law that allowed asylum seekers to be transferred to open holding centres, which they absconded soon after. In July, the Hungarian authorities further amended asylum legislation and strengthened their border controls. Migrant flows from Greece tailed off, but overall numbers rose dramatically again in 2014.
Part of the reason for the rise was irregular migration by nationals of the region, especially from Kosovo, who joined the northward march by Syrians and Somalis. On arrival in Hungary, they too requested asylum, and were accommodated in open refugee centres. They left the centres and headed to other European Union countries, particularly Austria and Germany, where many again applied for asylum.
The record number of migrants arriving in Greece had a direct knock-on effect on the Western Balkan route, as the people who entered the EU in Greece tried to make their way via the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia into Hungary and Croatia and then towards western Europe. This led to unprecedented numbers of migrants seeking to re-enter the EU through Hungary’s borders with Serbia. After Hungary completed the construction of a fence on its border with Serbia in September, the flow of migrants shifted to Croatia. In all of 2015, the region recorded 764 000 detections of illegal border crossings by migrants, a 16-fold rise from 2014. The top-ranking nationality was Syrian, followed by Iraqis and Afghans. Earlier in the year, unprecedented numbers of Kosovo* nationals crossed the Serbian-Hungarian border illegally.
*Frontex, (2017), Western Balkan Route, Article Retrieved From
In the small capital of Serbia in Belgrade, Diana, Sam and Felix operate a grass roots NGO. Over the years they have worked with the migrants making the perilous journey across the Balkan Route on their way to Western Europe, providing them with the essential items, food and clothing they need to survive. However ever since the closure of the Balkan Route, the necessary media attention needed to inform citizens of this crisis has either turned hostile or disappeared.
In an attempt to change this, they set out across the Balkan Route, from Turkey to Belgium putting together integration festivals for migrants and locals alike, to come together through workshops, food, art and music, with the intent to ease any existing tensions between these communities and bring light to the plight of refugees.
Through their own journey, this film offers an exclusive look into the so called Balkan Route, through the people they meet along the way, from migrants making the journey to ordinary citizens and organisations caught up in this humanitarian crisis.
Narwaz is protesting in Athens, Greece, along side other migrants demanding faster processing time and more clarity regarding reunification with family currently in Western Europe.
Hesham arrived to Serbia with his family in 2016. He and his family have been stuck there awaiting permission from authorities to cross the Serbian/Hungarian border.
Miodrag is a native of Serbia, living Belgrade. He has been involved in the migration crisis as humanitarian aid worker and photographer since the crisis began.
Maen is one the lucky ones that has made it to Western Europe. He is currently residing in Dussledorf, Germany. Passionate about people and business, Maen looks to establish his new life as a Syrian German.
The film is driven by stunning cinematography. Filming with a Red Scarlet-MX at 5K, the audience will be taken on a visual journey through some of the most beautiful, heart-breaking and iconic scenery that make up the Balkan Route and this particular story. Shooting at 25 frames per second as well as 120 framesper second, offers a unique tempo and feel to the film, switching between regular playback and slow motion. The array and contrast of scenery, colours and people filmed, delivers a visually captivating insight into this topic.
As well as offering audiences a distinctive visual experience, the sound of the film allows viewers to go on an acoustic journey. Each destination has its own unique culture, and this is brought to the audience through music, from Balkan Brass bands to Middle Eastern strings to German folk, with the inclusion of contemporary sounds.
One of the key challenges in making this film has been deciding how to best illustrate the experience of the Balkan Route through stories provided by aid workers, experts in the field and migrants themselves who have been interviewed. Using 2D motion graphics and animations, we have re-created people’s stories. Inspired by Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir, we want to take the audience back to events and places that were not accessible to our camera. Through this approach we will present snapshots of people’s past back in their home countries and along the Balkan Route in a unique and creative way. This has the opportunity to visually facilitate a deeper understanding of the migrants themselves and what has led them to take this journey.