Sunday

17th Nov 2019

Croatia lets refugees pass as it struggles with mass influx

  • A petrol station opened up to refugees and let people spend the night on camp beds provided by the local Red Cross. (Photo: EUobserver)

Thousands of refugees spent the night in a makeshift refugee camp in Beli Manastir on Thursday (17 September), a small town in eastern Croatia, hoping to make their way west into Slovenia as Croatia struggles to cope with the inundation of asylum seekers.

After Hungary sealed its border with Serbia, at least 13,000 people have made their way into Croatia over the last two days, turning Croatia into the new frontline in Europe’s refugee crisis in an effort to reach western Europe.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • "If we had closed, they would have had nowhere to buy water or food from, so that's why we stayed open," one shopkeeper said. (Photo: EUobserver)

By Friday it became clear that Croatia, which is not a part of the passport-free Schengen zone, cannot cope with the number of refugees fleeing war and persecution from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other troubled countries.

Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said on Friday that Croatia will redirect people towards Hungary and Slovenia, and that it has given up on registering asylum seekers under EU law.

‘Police just told us, you are free now’

Local aid workers estimated that at least 8000 asylum seekers spent the night in Beli Manastir, a small town in eastern Croatia, 6 km from the Hungarian border and 30 km from the Serbian border.

A petrol station in the town opened up to refugees and let people spend the night on camp beds provided by the local Red Cross.

“If we had closed, they would have had nowhere to buy water or food from, so that’s why we stayed open,” a man working at the petrol station told EUobserver, though declined to give his name as he said he was worried about his job.

“24 years ago we were in the same situation during the war with Serbia, I was a refugee myself for seven years, I had to flee this area,” he added, explaining why local Croatians are sympathetic towards the migrants.

“We know what it feels like”, he said. “The EU should make some efforts to solve this,” the man added.

Another precious item for refugees available at the petrol station are local SIM cards, which allows them to check maps and talk to family back home.

Just over the other side of the road an abandoned military camp housed thousands with the Red Cross providing sleeping bags, food and water, and portable toilets.

The local Red Cross also set up a tent to treat people with exhaustion, dehydration, and swollen feet, as many had walked from a border crossing from Serbia, some 30 km from Beli Manastir, volunteers told this website.

They distributed 7,500 breakfasts on Friday morning and the government provided them with 5 tonnes of food, said Katarina Zoric, spokeswoman for the Croatian Red Cross.

People were streaming in from the Croatian border town of Tovarnik, where tense scenes unfolded on Thursday after authorities kept exhausted refugees at the train station with repeated promises of transportation to reception centers.

The migrants eventually broke through riot police lines, which led to authorities giving up on registering them even though Croatia’s interior minister on Thursday insisted that Croatia would stick to EU rules and process refugees who first entered the EU on their soil.

During the night, authorities transported the refugees to Beli Manastir.

“Police just told us, you are free now,” Mohammad, a 25-year-old Syrian refugee told this website, sitting on his sleeping bag on the pavement next to a petrol pump.

He said that after being left for several hours without water or toilet facilities on the outskirts of Tovarnik, police herded them onto buses. Several families got separated in the process.

“It was crazy. Where is the UN?,” he said.

Most are understood to want to travel onto Zagreb and then make their way into Slovenia. A train left on Friday with refugees from the Tovarnik border town, also headed for Zagreb.

Another domino falls under Dublin

In another twist in Croatia’s erratic response to the refugee crisis, Prime Minister Zoran Milovanovic told press that Croatia cannot cope with the influx and will redirect people toward Hungary and Slovenia and further towards Western Europe.

Croatia has given up registering people under EU rules. The so-called Dublin rules call for asylum seekers to be registered in the first country they enter in the EU.

"We'll give them food and water and that's it," the premier said at a press conference, adding that in the space of two days, 13,000 people had entered the country of 4 million.

Aid workers said some refugees had already made their way north into Hungary through the Croatian border, hoping to get to Austria, and remain undetected by local authorities to avoid registration and fingerprinting.

Hungary said on Thursday it also wants to build a fence on the Croatian border to stem the flow of asylum seekers.

Milovanovic said the borders can only be closed by walls, but said Croatia will not build one.

Hungarian government spokesman, Zoltan Kovacs, told Associated Press it was "totally unacceptable for a European country to not respect European rules just because it was unprepared".

He added that Croatia would be "set back by many years" in its efforts to join the EU's Schengen zone of passport-free travel.

News in Brief

  1. Catalan politicians extradition hearing postponed
  2. Germany: EU banking union deal possible in December
  3. EIB: no more funding of fossil-fuel projects
  4. UK defence chief: Russia could trigger World War III
  5. Hungary's Varhelyi will face more questions
  6. Police put former Berlusconi MEP Comi under house arrest
  7. MEPs criticise Poland for criminalising sex education
  8. UK will not name new commissioner before election

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. France unveils new model EU enlargement
  2. Key moments for new commission This WEEK
  3. EU threatens legal action against UK over commissioner
  4. Corruption in the Balkans: the elephant in the room
  5. Green MEPs unconvinced by Romanian commissioner
  6. EU states fell short on sharing refugees, say auditors
  7. Hungary's commissioner-to-be grilled over loyalty to Orban
  8. Widow's plea as EU diplomats debate Magnitsky Act

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us