Monday

20th Nov 2017

Croatia 'overwhelmed' by asylum seekers

  • Thousands of people are stranded at the small train station in Tovarnik, Croatia (Photo: EUobserver)

Chaos erupted at the Croatian border town of Tovarnik, a new frontline in Europe’s refugee crisis, on Thursday (17 September), when asylum seekers broke through riot police lines.

The people, who numbered in their thousands, were exhausted and hungry.

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They had been stranded in Tovarnik train station in scorching heat and with no information after crossing over from Serbia.

Police had told them to wait for trains. But the trains were delayed and water supplies began to run out.

Some time later, buses arrived and riot police tried to herd people on board to take them to registration centres in Croatia. But some broke through the lines in a rush to get on.

Fathers ran with crying babies in their arms and couples tried to hold onto each other as the crowd stormed the buses.

Some people were injured. An Afghan man had to be resuscitated and was rushed off by ambulance.

Majd, a 25-year-old Syrian mechanic, who spoke to EUobserver earlier in the day, fell onto a stone and was also taken away by ambulance.

His family doesn’t know where he is and has no way of communicating with him.

Other people, who didn’t want to be fingerprinted, started trying to walk out of the train station to Tovarnik town centre.

They were blocked by riot police, in a standoff which continued into the evening.

“Croatia is a liar!”, one man, who joined the march to Tovarnik, shouted.

Asylum seekers complained that they had been promised trains, and then a meagre number of buses arrived.

“They played with us,” said Saif Sabham, from Iraq.

“People trampled on each other and we don’t even know where the buses [are going to] take us”, he added.

Local police decline to talk to press.

’Overwhelmed’

But Croatian interior minister Ranko Ostojic, who came to Tovarnik for a press conference, said: “Croatia is overwhelmed”.

He said 6,500 people arrived in the past two days, compared to 5,900 in the past nine months.

He added that Croatia had just 432 asylum requests in all of 2014. “Our capacity is totally full”, he told media.

Ostojic also said Croatia won’t let migrants go west into the EU’s Schengen area, a passport-free travel zone, which his country is yet to join.

“There is no free passage to Slovenia [a Schengen member],” he said.

He noted that migrants can only travel further if EU transit states and host states agree. He also said people who refuse to register in Croatia will be arrested.

The minister called on Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia to uphold their obligations under international and EU law.

Greece

“Greece needs to stop the pipe”, he said, referring to the movement of people from refugee camps in Turkey, through Greece, to the Western Balkans.

Croatia’s PM, earlier this week, had indicated he would let the migrants travel onward to Germany.

But Ostojic denied that Berlin put pressure on Zagreb to clamp down.

“I don’t need phone calls from Germany. We are doing this because of EU law”, he said.

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