An estimated 5,400 migrants arrived in Croatia in the last 24 hours, the Red Cross said Thursday, with officials concerned that the country may become overwhelmed by a wave of asylum seekers seeking alternative routes to Western Europe.
The Croatian Red Cross said it expects similar numbers to arrive over the next few days, state TV HRT reported, after buses drop them off near the border on the Serbian side.
Croatia, Slovenia and Austria have begun scrambling to deal with the thousands of migrants it anticipates after Hungary sealed its border. The move rerouted the Balkan migration route for refugees fleeing countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq from Hungarian soil to its three EU partners.
On Wednesday, Croatia said it will allow unfettered passage through the country and build shelters for the travellers and even hinted that it might establish corridors with its western neighbor Slovenia.
But later in the day, Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic urged Serbia to curb the flow of migrants and refugees who are on the move from Macedonia and Greece, and hinted that Croatia may tighten controls at its border.
Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic said Wednesday night that “if these numbers go into thousands, we can deal with that, but tens of thousands – we simply don’t have the capacity.”
“We’re talking to some countries, European and non-European, to help us if these numbers continue to escalate,” she told HRT.
The migrants are being registered and transported to a collecting centre in Jezevo, on the outskirts of Zagreb.
During processing “they are free to move, they aren’t in prison,” Pusic said, adding that “[some] are economic migrants, and [some are] people fleeing war who want asylum.”
Several thousand migrants remain stranded on Serbia’s northern border with Hungary since Monday night and are expected to eventually make their way to Croatia.
Hungary on Tuesday slammed the doors shut, backing a fence it built along the 175-kilometre border with Serbia with police and harsh laws against border trespassers.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Budapest will extend the barricade along its border with Croatia.
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz on Wednesday warned his Croatian counterpart Pusic and Slovenia’s chief diplomat Karl Erjavec that under EU rules they must hold and process potential asylum seekers on their soil.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Feymann is scheduled to visit Zagreb and Ljubljana later Thursday.