Sunday

19th Nov 2017

Balkan bottleneck after Slovenia puts cap on migrants

  • Hungary has erected a fence along its Serbian border, and now along its Croatian frontier, protecting "christian Europe" (Photo: Freedom House)

Thousands of refugees and migrants have been stranded in Croatia and Serbia as Slovenia limits the number it can accept daily after Hungary sealed off its border with Croatia early Saturday.

Slovenia accepted 2,100 people on Sunday (18 October), the Slovenian news agency reported, and did not accept a second train from Croatia carrying some 2,000 people.

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Ljubljana announced the day before that it would only allow in 2,500 people daily, even though Croatia had asked it to accept 5,000 migrants.

This has led to a build-up of people at the Serbian-Croatian border where thousands of people had to wait on buses for hours in the wintery cold.

Scuffles have reportedly broken out between desperate refugees trying to make it into Croatia and overstretched police officers.

Around 5,000 migrants spent a cold night in a transit camp in Opatovac, eastern Croatia.

More than 6,000 people reached Croatia on Saturday, and thousands continued to arrive from Serbia, after crossing Macedonia and Greece.

Some 3,000 migrants entered Slovenia from Croatia on Saturday, around the same number who have arrived in Slovenia in the entire past month.

The country is equipped to house up to 8,000 people, according to Reuters.

Slovenia's interior state secretary Bostjan Sefic, explaining the cap on the number of people, told press on Sunday that neighbouring Austria only accepts 1,500 refugees and migrants per day, therefore Slovenia had to limit the number of people it can allow in.

"If we would accept 5,000 migrants per day that would mean 35,000 would be in Slovenia in 10 days," he was quoted by AP, adding: "That would be unacceptable."

Slovenia and Croatia both indicated that they will keep the corridor open as long as Austria and Germany, the preferred destination for refugees and migrants, keep their doors open.

"Slovenia will not close its border unless Germany closes its border, in that case Croatia will have to do the same," Croatian foreign minister Vesna Pusic said on Saturday.

Slovenia's army was also called in to help police deal with thousands of refugees and migrants.

Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said on Saturday, however, that his country is not in a state of emergency.

Slovenia, with a population of 2 million, became the latest hotspot on the Balkan route for people seeking international protection, after Hungary sealed off its border with Croatia on early Saturday.

The right-wing government in Budapest said it decided on the border closure after EU leaders failed to agree on a common effort to protect the EU's external border in Greece. Hungary says it is also defending Christian Europe and its values from mainly Muslim migrants.

Hungary already closed its green border with Serbia, another transit route for refugees and migrants, a month ago.

Until now, some 5,000 to 8,000 people bound for Austria and Germany had been allowed to cross Hungary every day, without registration.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said the new route through Slovenia was prolonging the ordeal for thousands of people.

"The decision by Hungary to close its border has certainly added to the suffering and misery and the length of the journey for these desperate people," said UNHCR regional spokesman Babar Baloch.

More than 615,000 people, most of them Syrians, have reached Europe so far this year, compared to just over 200,000 for the whole of 2014.

More than 475,000 people made it to Greece from Turkey in 2015.

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Croatia-Serbia border tensions escalate

Serbia has banned imports from Croatia after Croatia closed its border to Serbian cargo traffic, in escalating tension over the migrant influx.

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The EU's policy of helping the Libyan coast guard to return people plucked from the sea is "inhuman", says the UN's human rights chief, given that most end up in dire conditions.

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