Croatia closes border to stem refugee tide

By bne IntelliNews September 18, 2015

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Croatia closed seven border crossings with Serbia and prohibited traffic between the two countries on September 17, after accepting over 11,000 refugees since Tuesday.

Interior minister Ranko Ostojic said his country was “absolutely full”, BBC reported. There is no way migrants can move further to Western Europe from Croatia, he said, recommending that migrants on their way from Greece towards Serbia stay in their camps.

Croatia had said it expected 4,000 migrants within several days but is only prepared to accept 1,500 migrants per day. The inflow exceeded by far country’s accommodation capacity.

The country has faced a massive influx of migrants and refugees since Hungary completed its fence on the Hungarian-Serbian border and passed a new law that threatens refugees with up to three years in prison for illegal entry. This has forced many refugees to switch from Hungary to Croatia on their path towards Western Europe. 

The no-man lands between Serbia and Hungary, where clashes between Hungarian police and refugees occurred in recent days, is now almost empty. Refugees now wait to be transferred to Croatia, either on buses organised and paid for by the United Nations and the International Organisation for Migration, or on local buses they pay for themselves.

The Hungarian government’s decision has caused tension between Serbia and Hungary. Hungarian police even attacked a Serbian national television crew that was reporting at the border. Serbia has lodged a protest with Hungary over the incident.  Foreign Affairs Minister Ivica Dacic said that they had requested the Hungarian government to determine who was responsible for this incident and to make sure nothing similar could happen again. "Hungary and Serbia are on friendly terms and everything that can be done to preserve the relationship in this time of crisis should be undertaken," Dacic said.

Prior to Dacic’s note, the Hungarian government sent one to Serbia asking it to keep control over refugee movements and to stop them throwing objects at the border fence.

The Serbian government is also concerned over the interruption of goods traffic. The Hungarian-Serbian border is the main route for goods that travel up from Turkey and Greece to Western Europe and vice versa, as well as Serbian imports and exports.

Across the Balkans the view is that Hungary’s repressive methods will only increase the number of people using illegal ways to reach Western European, which could significantly increase human trafficking volumes as well as the number of refugee deaths.

Further along the route from the Balkans to Western Europe, Slovenia is also facing an increased flow of migrants. Slovenia, which is a Schengen country as opposed to Croatia, is not accepting the entry of migrants on its territory. Local media reported on September 17 that more than 200 refugees had arrived in Ljubljana on an international train from Croatia. The police have announced that the group would be returned.

Slovenian Prime Minister, Miro Cerar has appealed to the EU for a prompt solution related to the on-going crisis that will be implemented across the EU as well as in the rest of Europe.

As Croatia proves to be a dead end for migrants, they might seek other alternative routes to enter Europe – including Romania. So far, migrants have avoided Romania, which is not a Schengen country and is not on their route to Western Europe. But the country has a long border with Hungary. However, once in Romania, migrants might get locked in the country in the same way they are locked in Croatia at this moment.

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