Belgrade (dpa) – Croatian authorities transported migrants to the Hungarian border on Friday, hours after the premier warned they “cannot accommodate” the influx of people trying to make their way to Western Europe.
Once at the border, Hungarian authorities were putting the migrants on buses to registration centres at Szentgotthard and Vamosszabadi, near the Austrian border, the Zagreb daily Vecernji List reported.
Croatia has been buckling under the surge of migrants since Hungary closed its border to them on Tuesday. Around 17,000 migrants, mainly refugees fleeing wars in the Middle East, arrived in Croatia since Wednesday morning.
The main migration route across the Balkans – from Turkey, across Greece, Macedonia and Serbia – previously led to Hungary. But after Hungary sealed its borders, migrants began taking an alternative route to Western Europe via Croatia, the EU’s newest member.
Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic told a press conference earlier in the day: “Our capacities are small. Though Croatia is for all those people a transit country, we cannot [take in] any more.”
He said the country is so overwhelmed it no longer has the ability to register the arrivals, as required by the EU, and provide shelter.
The pace of refugee arrivals was also picking up in Slovenia, Croatia’s neighbour to the north-west.
The situation has “changed significantly” since Thursday, Anton Stubljar of the Novo Mesto border police told the Slovenian news agency STA.
“Regional police cooperation between Slovenia and Croatia is not proceeding the way we would like,” STA quoted him as saying, noting that Croatian authorities were not registering the migrants.
The foreign ministry in Ljubljana on Friday summoned Croatia’s ambassador to talks over Zagreb’s handling of the crisis.
European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud warned Croatia that it is bound by the bloc’s rules to register, fingerprint and offer asylum to all incoming migrants.
It has the right to deny entry to those who refuse the opportunity to apply for asylum, but not to let them move on without registration, she said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with Milanovic late Friday, government spokesman Seffen Seibert said in Berlin.
“The chancellor and the prime minister agreed that the problem must be solved at the external borders of the European Union,” he said, which would mean EU front line states such as Croatia, Hungary, Greece and Italy.
As in Croatia and other countries on the Balkan route, nearly all migrants want to continue west, most of all to apply for asylum in Germany, France and Sweden.
In Geneva, the International Organization for Migration cautioned the onset of the cold season will not deter migrants from crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe.
“We are not expecting figures to drop into the winter, as last year many continued to cross,” said Joel Millman, spokesman of the aid and advocacy organization.
Total arrivals in Europe by sea have been 474,000 so far this year, nearly 40 per cent of them Syrians, according to IOM.