17th Mar 2018

Croatia-Serbia border tensions escalate

  • Migrants wait for trains at the Croatian-Serbian border in Tovarnik (Photo: EUobserver)

Serbia banned imports of Croatian goods on Thursday (24 September) in protest at Croatia’s earlier decision to close the border to cargo traffic, as relations between the two ex-Yugoslav republics hit their lowest ebb for over a decade over the migration crisis.

Croatia blames Serbia for the large influx of migrants seen over the last week, with almost 50,000 refugees flooding into the EU state.

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The surge happened after Hungary, the northern neighbor of both countries, closed its green border with Serbia with a metal fence.

Zagreb is angry that Belgarde is now bussing the migrants to Croatia and says it should send them to Hungary and Romania as well.

Croatia last week closed seven of eight border crossings with Serbia to vehicles before halting cargo traffic altogether to put pressure on Belgrade.

In a harsh-toned statement condemning the measure, unprecedented since the two countries fought wach other during the Blakna Wars in the 1990s, the Serbian foreign ministry compared the Croatian measures to its World War Two-era Nazi regime laws.

Serbia took the countermeasures starting on Wednesday at midnight.

"We are not happy with this, but these measures are protecting our state," Serbian interior minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said on Thursday.

Croatia’s prime minister Zoran Milanovic, according to the b92 news website, continued to accuse Serbia of allowing refugees to “wander around the country unorganised until they gathered in the north on the border with Hungary, and then it sends them to the Croatian border in an organised manner”.

Milanovic also said the blockade was not discussed among EU leaders at their meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.

The border dispute highlights the growing pressure Western Balkan countries face as refugees and migrants fleeing troubled countries take the long journey to Europe through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, and onto Western Europe.

Frederica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, announced on Wednesday that on 8 October Luxembourg will host a meeting of foreign and interior ministers aimed at helping the counties along the Western Balkan migrant trail.

Hungary’s decision to fence off Serbia remains controversial, while Budapest is arguing it merely wants to control the flow of migrants and uphold EU law by registering them.

Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban on Wednesday night in Brussels attempted to beat back criticism saying, “if they don’t like the fence, then we can let the migrants though to Austria and Germany”.

Hungary’s police said Thursday that 10,046 people arrived in the country a day earlier, surpassing the previous record of 9,380 set on 14 September, just before Hungary closed down its border with Serbia.

Orban recently claimed a new fence along the Croatian border will be completed by the weekend.

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