‘Migration is like a balloon’

War and chaos in Syria and Iraq, violence in Afghanistan, and hopelessness in countries bordering war zones have spurred several million refugees and migrants to set out for Europe. The Western Balkans, from Turkey through Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Hungary, became the main entry route.

Migration is like a balloon. With this quote from an official at Frontex, the European border control agency, BBC correspondent Nick Thorpe begins describing the incredible journeys of those refugees who made their way to Europe, using the Western Balkans route.

Based in Budapest for more than three decades, Thorpe was perfectly placed to cover the birth of the route, its heyday, and the attempts of numerous states to close it.

In his new book, The Road Before Me Weeps, Thorpe challenges those who demonise or glorify migration, visits the arrivals in their new environment, and studies their impact on the countries which welcomed them with open arms or hesitation.

The book is a chronicle of human bravery, hospitality and cruelty. An intimate account of the daily lives of those stuck in razor-wire enclosures or on the move along forest tracks, railway lines, motorways, and of the smugglers, border police, and political leaders who help, exploit, or obstruct them.

Now available in English, the book was initially written for Hungarian readers.

“Hungarians need to know, they need to get out from their ignorance”, Mr Thorpe said at the book launch in Budapest.

The title was suggested by a friend of the author, taken from a folk song of the Székely people, the Hungarians living in Transylvania. There are several versions of the song. According to the best-known a man walks down a village street, so sad that even the road weeps before him, to visit the girl he loves, who has forsaken him for another man. No door opens to him.

“The book is a triumph”, says Michael Ignatieff, president of the Central European University.