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© Rémi Cadoret

Video: Crossing the Alps with Guinean migrants on a perilous journey

Latest update : 2018-02-02

By Rémi CADORET , Natalia MENDOZA

Since last summer, more migrants have been trying to cross the frozen plains of the Col de l'Échelle mountain pass in the Alps in a bid to reach France from Italy. In 2016 only a few dozen tried, but last year 1,600 migrants, more than half of them minors, embarked on this icy route. Our reporters followed their treacherous journey.

At Turin station in northern Italy, migrants board trains headed for the Bardonecchia ski resort, some 5 kilometres (3 miles) from the French border. We meet two Guineans trying to cross the Alps and follow them on the first stage of their perilous journey.

It is early January and a metre of snow has fallen in just 24 hours. Hampered by the extreme weather conditions, the migrants are forced to wait. As soon as the weather permits, they must cross the Italian-French border on foot and take on the Col l'Échelle mountain pass in the French Alps at an altitude of 1,762 metres. It’s a horrific day and night journey facing icy wind, snow and cold.

After the Alps, fear of police

On the French side, Bruno Jonnard, a local ski patroller, brings supplies to the only mountain shelter on the route. In his bag are warm clothes and food to allow the migrants to warm up and regain some strength.

Volunteers from the NGO All Migrants, meanwhile, go off to collect the exhausted and freezing migrants who have just crossed the mountain pass from Italy. They can often be spotted on the roadside, freezing cold and panicking at the thought of being caught by the police. During our reporting, four migrants were picked up by the volunteers. They were then transported to a reception centre in the town of Briançon to receive first aid.

Lastly, we head out to meet local French families who welcome young underage migrants into their homes. They give them a little comfort and help them with administrative procedures so that they can pursue their dream of a better life.