World

Slovenia considers border fence to deal with migrants

As more European borders shut down and migrants reroute to get to countries that will welcome them, Slovenia says it is considering all options, including fencing off its Croatian flank, which it says about 47,000 people have crossed since Saturday.

Country says 47,000 migrants have arrived since Saturday after Hungary sealed its frontier

Some of the 47,000 migrants and refugees Slovenia says have entered since last Saturday walk from Dobova, near the Croatian border, to a transit camp in Brezice. (Antonio Bronic/Reuters)

Slovenia says it will consider all options, including fencing off its border with Croatia, if European leaders fail to agree a common approach to the migrant crisis as thousands stream into the ex-Yugoslav republic.

Migrants began crossing into Slovenia last Saturday after Hungary, which had been used as an entry point into Europe's normally borderless Schengen Area, closed its frontier with Croatia. The Slovenian Interior Ministry said that a total of 47,000 had entered the country since Saturday, including some 10,000 in the past 24 hours.

Slovenia, as part of Schengen, has numerous crossings into Austria, a destination for many migrants but also a stopping point on the way into Germany, Sweden or other countries considered favourable. 

At one such crossing on Friday, between the Slovenian town of Sentilj and Spielfeld in Austria, a Reuters cameraman said about 3,000 people broke the fence and walked in to Austria.

Police officers escort Fatima from Syria, front, and hundreds of other migrants as they make their way on foot after crossing into Slovenia from Croatia on Thursday. Slovenia has asked the EU for police to help regulate the inflow of migrants from Croatia. (Srdjan Zivulovic/Reuters)

Slovenian officials said the country is too small and does not have enough resources to handle such large numbers of people. Prime Minister Miro Cerar accused Croatia of transporting too many people too quickly to Slovenia.

When asked if there was the possibility of building a fence on the border, Cerar told Slovenian state TV: "We are considering also those options."

"At first we are seeking a European solution. If we lose hope on the European level, if we do not get enough on Sunday  then all options are possible as that would mean that we are on our own," Cerar said.

Several European leaders are due to meet in Brussels on Sunday under the auspices of the European Commission to discuss the latest developments in the migrant crisis, Europe's biggest since the Second World War.

Winter threatens to deepen crisis

Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa have reached Europe this year, with hundreds losing their lives in risky voyages across the Mediterranean.

Most are trying to reach Germany and other rich countries. Croatia began directing migrants into Slovenia after Hungary closed its borders.

Migrants' children keep themselves warm around a fire after crossing the border from Croatia into Slovenia on Thursday. Slovenia, population two million, is the smallest country on the Balkan migration route toward Austria and Central Europe. (Srdjan Zivulovic/Reuters)

But bottlenecks have built up along new routes and border crossing points in the Balkans, and aid workers fear the humanitarian crisis will deepen as winter weather sets in.

According to Slovenia's Interior Ministry, the cost of fencing off the 670-kilometre-long border with Croatia would be about 80 million euros, or $116 million.

Slovenia has asked for the EU for assistance and officials said Austria, Germany, Italy, France, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland offered to send police reinforcements.

Police escort

On Friday morning thousands of refugees and migrants were sitting in a field outside a small town of Rigonce near the border with Croatia as temperatures neared freezing level.

From there they will be escorted by the police to a camp to be registered before they continue on their journey to Austria.

Slovenian police officers watch as migrants walk from Dobova on the Croatian border toward a transit camp in Brezice, Slovenia, on Wednesday. (Antonio Bronic/Reuters)

"We have been travelling for 10 days and it was very difficult," Abdullah, 23-year-old medicine student from the Syrian city of Aleppo, which has suffered heavy destruction and many deaths during that country's four-year-old civil war.

"I am here with my wife who has a heart problem and was treated by physicians last night. We plan to reach Germany to continue our studies and try to earn some money to help our parents join us," he said.

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