Waldar went through a muddy, Bulgarian forest without food or water

Published: 21 December 2015 12:36 CET

By John Engedal Nissen, IFRC

The majority of people seeking refuge in Europe are taking the treacherous route from Turkey to Greece across the Aegean Sea in boats that are barely capable of staying afloat. But 30-year-old Waldar Abbas, from Khost province in eastern Afghanistan, took a different path – overland from Turkey through dense Bulgarian forests.

“I spent two days walking through mud in a Bulgarian forest without food or water,” he said. “It was extremely difficult.”

After 48 hours crossing through woods and streams in Bulgaria, he eventually arrived in Serbia – the next stop on the long journey to safety in Europe – where exhaustion took over.  “I was so tired that I slept for three days in Serbia before I was able to move on,” he said.

Afghans make up 21 per cent of the 968,000 people that have arrived in Europe this year, according to the UN. Like hundreds of thousands of others, Abbas says relentless fighting near his home forced him to flee but he had to make the heart-breaking decision to leave his wife behind while he attempts to get refugee status so he can bring her to Europe safely.

He said: “Life is very difficult in my province. People had to flee whenever there was fighting. My wife is still there, because the journey to this place was too difficult for her to take.”

Abbas arrived at a reception centre in Salzburg and is among the thousands of people on the move that have received vital support from the Austrian Red Cross, including food, clothing and first aid.

“Every time I entered a new country I would look for the Red Cross, because I knew they would help me,” he said.

Abbas now has to decide whether to claim asylum in Austria or cross the border into Germany. But the most important aspect for him is that he will be accepted wherever he begins to build a future.

“I am not sure where to claim asylum – a country that accepts me and that is good to refugees. There I will go to find rest,” he said.

The Austrian Red Cross has provided support to 570,000 migrants crossing into Austria, including 1.5 million meals, medical care for 70,000 people and the transportation of 3,000 people to hospitals. More than 16,500 volunteers and 1,200 staff are involved in the migration response. The majority of migrants have travelled onwards to Germany, while up to 90,000 people have applied for asylum in Austria in 2015.