World

Refugee crisis: Croatia tells migrants keep moving toward Hungary or Slovenia

Faced with thousands of migrants streaming in, Croatia declares it is overwhelmed and would tell those on an arduous trek to reach the safety of Western Europe to keep moving on toward Hungary or Slovenia.

Tensions flare and scuffles break out among people waiting at train station in Croatian town

The plight of refugees along Croatia-Serbia border

6 years ago
Duration 1:40
CBC's Nahlah Ayed details the conditions of refugees as they try to make their way to freedom 1:40

Faced with thousands of migrants streaming in, Croatia declared Friday it was overwhelmed and would tell those on an arduous trek to reach the safety of Western Europe to keep moving on toward Hungary or Slovenia.

With more than 14,000 migrants arriving in just two days, Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic declared that his nation of 4.2 million could no longer cope, and asylum seekers could not stay.

"What else can we do?" Milanovic said at a news conference. "You are welcome in Croatia and you can pass through Croatia. But go on. Not because we don't like you, but because this is not your final destination."

The policy is sure increase tensions along Croatia's borders with Hungary and Slovenia, which are also turning people away as they seek to stem the tide of migrants.

Nahlah Ayed reports from Serbia

6 years ago
Duration 1:55
Croatia tells migrants keep moving toward Hungary or Slovenia as tensions flare and scuffles break out at train station 1:55

Huge numbers have surged into Croatia after Hungary erected a barbed wire-fence on its border with Serbia and took other tough measures to stop migrants from coming in, including spraying crowds at the border with tear gas and water cannons.

Croatia represents a longer and more difficult route to the wealthier nations of the European Union, but those fleeing violence in their homelands, such as Syrians and Iraqis, had little choice.

Policemen run as Syrian and Afghan migrants clash at the train station in Beli Manastir, Croatia, on Friday. (Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)

Croatia closed all but one of its border crossings with Serbia after chaotic scenes at the border Thursday where dozens of migrants were trampled in the rush to get a seat on a bus or train.

Tensions flared and scuffles broke out as migrants waited at the bus and train station in Croatia's Beli Manastir town on Friday. The town is two kilometres from the Hungarian border. Police were seen attempting to calm the situation shortly after the fighting began.

Milanovic appealed Friday to the European Union to step in and help.

"We have a heart but we also have a brain," he said.

Tovarnik, Croatia (Google)

Most migrants don't want to stay in Croatia. Just one woman with children has requested asylum in Croatia since the influx started, Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic said.

The UN refugee agency warned Friday of a "buildup" of migrants in Serbia as its neighbours tightened their borders.

"The crisis is growing and being pushed from one country to another," said Adrian Edwards of UNHCR. "You aren't going to solve these problems by closing borders."

RAW: Refugees clash at Croatia border

6 years ago
Duration 1:31
Police struggle to keep peace as tensions flare when groups of young men attack each other 1:31

The human misery was evident in Croatian towns like Beli Manastir, near the border with Hungary. Migrants slept on streets, on train tracks and at a local gas station. People scrambled to board local buses without knowing where they were going.

A migrant child cries as migrants scramble aboard a train at the station in Beli Manastir, Croatia on Friday. (Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)

Hundreds of others were stranded Friday on a large Danube river bridge in the Serbian town of Bezdan after Croatian authorities closed all but one border crossing with Serbia. A large crane lifted barriers onto the bridge.

The group, which included many women and children, stood in a no mans' land in the middle of the tall bridge in the scorching heat with little water or food.

"We came here last night when they said 'wait here for a while' and then they brought in police cars to block the bridge," said Ahmed Ali from the embattled Damascus neighbourhood of Yarmouk, holding a baby girl in his arms.

He said part of his family managed to cross the bridge and enter Croatia, while the rest were stranded on the bridge.

Migrants prepare to board a train at the Tovarnik railway station, Croatia on Friday. (Antonio Bronic/Reuters)

"We escaped from the war in Syria and we will die here now and this is the responsibility of Europe," he said. "

Despite the border closures, many kept slipping into Croatia through the cornfields. Women carrying children and people in wheelchairs were among the thousands rushing in the hopes of finding refuge.

Some from Croatia have already made their way north to Slovenia. Around 100 people were being held Friday at a makeshift processing centre in the border town of Berizce.

Europe's social benefits for refugees

6 years ago
Duration 3:10
Natasha Fatah examines opportunities and benefits migrants can expect once they arrive in Europe 3:10

But Slovenia has also been returning others to Croatia and has stopped all rail traffic between the two countries. Slovenian police have intercepted dozens of migrants who tried to cross through the forests overnight from Croatia.

Hungary, meanwhile, started building another razor-wire fence overnight, this time along a stretch of its border with Croatia to keep migrants from entering the country there, a quicker route to Western Europe than through Slovenia.

The critical voices from there are not calming down.- Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the first phase of the 41-kilometre barrier on the Croatian border will be completed Friday, with coils of razor wire being laid down before the actual fence goes up. In addition, he said 1,800 soldiers and 800 police were being sent to the border with Croatia over the next days to keep out migrants.

Orban lashed out at those in the West who have criticized his handling of the migrant crisis.

"The critical voices from there are not calming down," Orban said, adding that European politics and media are governed by a "suicidal liberalism" that "puts our way of life at risk."

Some humanitarian groups appealed for a more unified response. A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, Babar Baloch, said countries cannot cope individually.

"What's missing is a collective EU action," he said. "Countries have been trying to deal with it on their own and then at some stage they say they can't. So they need to do it together."

UNHCR says more than 442,440 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe this year and 2,921 have died trying. The International Organization for Migration puts those figures at 473,887 and 2,812 respectively.

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