Migrants aided on treacherous journey across Alps by army of volunteers

Hundreds of volunteers in the Alps are helping migrants cross from Italy into France through treacherous terrain and freezing temperatures.

Many men, women and children – sometimes thousands – attempt the journey every month, and aid networks on both sides of the border rely on long local traditions of solidarity to run shelters and give out food, clothes and medicine.

They clear paths in the snow and wait for migrants at night to lead them to safety without being stopped by border patrols who could send them back to their first country of arrival in the European Union.

“We have subzero temperatures, snow, fog… It’s hard enough for young men, you can imagine what it is like for women, children and old people,” said Beatrice Pasquale, who works for the Italian medical charity Doctors for Human Rights.

Migrants hide to evade detection as they cross the Alps

Credit: AP Photo/Daniel Cole

“There is a very strong network of volunteers who give them the right kit, at least clothing wise, to face the journey, like jackets and proper mountain shoes. They arrive here in trainers and a polo shirt,” she told The Telegraph.

Ms Pasquale works in Oulx, a small Italian town in the north-western Alps near the French border, where migrants stop before making the trek through the Col de Montgenèvre mountain pass. In the first two weeks of November, 547 people used this route, she said.

In both countries, populist leaders have garnered support by putting immigration at the heart of public debate, arguing that migrants, especially from Muslim or African countries, are a threat to European economies and cultures.

But across the mountainous border towns, migrants have been treated as people in need first and foremost and helped accordingly, ever since they first started showing up in 2016.

Migrants head to France from Italy.

Credit: AP Photo/Daniel Cole

"We walk with them, discreetly. We try to avoid being spotted. We wait in the forest if needed. And we sort out vehicles to come and pick them up," said volunteer Paquerette Forest, a retired teacher.

The help, clothes and treatments administered for frostbite have been credited with saving lives. The last death in the Alps was recorded in 2019 when a Togolese man died as he attempted a night trek across the border in sub-zero temperatures.

"If not for them [the volunteers], we would have died of cold," said Aymen Jarnane, a 23-year-old Moroccan.

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