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Over 1,500 Miles In 9 Days, Reporter Treks With Migrants


Thousands of migrants and refugees, who have made it to Greece, are making the 1,500-mile trek to Germany in search of a new life. Kim Hjelmgaard, European correspondent for USA Today, has spent the last nine days making the journey with them. We reached him today on a train as he neared the end of his trip.

KIM HJELMGAARD: So I am barreling towards Berlin from southern Germany. I'm about four or five hours away. I left Munich earlier today, which was kind of the end stop, in the sense that Germany is the place that many people are trying to reach.

RATH: Can you quickly walk us through the route that you took from Greece to Germany, and the modes of transportation you had to use?

HJELMGAARD: Essentially, they are going by boat, by road, by bus, by train, and they're walking, and so that's what I did. I did not hop on a dingy from Turkey to Greece, which is quite dangerous. That was the only thing I did not do. But I started on an island; it's about four or five miles off the coast of Turkey, called Lesbos. From there, it's about a 10-hour ferry ride over to Athens. And then from there, it's any way you can, really, right up to Germany. But I was in Greece, and then I was in Macedonia, then Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Austria and finally, Germany.

RATH: Talk about what you learned specifically by doing this journey yourself that hasn't been able to be reported in other ways, maybe.

HJELMGAARD: Well, the whole idea behind this reporting trip was really to try to get to know some of the people. We're all bombarded with the policy, with the statistics, with the data, with the arguments between the various countries. As ordinary people, it's sometimes hard to connect with that. So, you know, I wanted to kind of spend some time with these people just to hear about their side of the story and what it was like for them to take this particular part of the journey.

RATH: Several European countries have been putting up fences and implementing border controls to deal with the people who are coming through. What about the law enforcement in various countries? You said in one of your dispatches that you were rather roughly handled by police - that was in Macedonia?

HJELMGAARD: Macedonia. Yeah, that's right. And I have to say, I mean, there's other journalists, particularly in Hungary, who've faced far worse. But they did kind of shake me up a bit and refused to accept any of my credentials.

RATH: Was this rough treatment - is that just how everybody who is travelling - all the migrants - are being treated? Or was this something about you being a journalist?

HJELMGAARD: You know, I don't think it was about being a journalist. It's a little bit difficult to say, you know, there's conflicting reports. I mean, myself, I didn't see out-and-out abuses, and I was inside camps - you know, there was some camps that I could not get inside. You know, from what I saw, people were reasonably well fed and given food at the camps, you know, but only at the camps - not in between. But there are also, you know what I mean - can you imagine - you nearly drowned in a boat, you've landed in Greece, and then you have to sleep outside for four days, you know, with three of your children. There's no shelter really, you know, you don't have any money to speak of, and then you face kind of several weeks of repeating the process as you move from one country to another. From what I've seen, I probably wouldn't push it into outright human rights abuses. Although, I think that there are troubling issues inside the camps, but it may be related to, you know, police forces, security forces that aren't trained, you know, how to deal with this. I mean, frankly, how do you train for something that's never happened before like this?

RATH: Kim Hjelmgaard is the European correspondent for USA Today. He spent the past nine days traveling with refugees and migrants from Greece to Berlin and writing, taking photos, audio and video entries all along the way. Kim, it has been great speaking with you. Thank you very much.

HJELMGAARD: Sure, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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