Croatia moves migrants to Hungary border after warning it can’t cope

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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.

About 20 buses arrived at Beremend, on the Croatian side. Hungarian police and soldiers were at the crossing with six buses reportedly on standby behind them.

Zagreb daily Vecernji List said the Hungarian buses were to take the migrants to Austria, but that report could not be confirmed.

Beremend is about 40 kilometres west of the point where the Serbian, Croatian and Hungarian borders join.

Croatia has been buckling under the surge of migrants since Hungary closed its border to them on Tuesday. Around 15,400 migrants, mainly refugees fleeing wars in the Middle East, arrived in Croatia since Wednesday morning.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic told a press conference: “Our capacities are small. Though Croatia is for all those people a transit country, we cannot [take in] any more.”

Migrants at Croatia’s border with Serbia will not be turned away, he said, but warned the country is so overwhelmed it no longer has the ability to register them, as required by the EU, and provide shelter.

“People will not be held up in Croatia,” he said.

Milanovic dismissed a call from the opposition to seal the border – even though his cabinet Thursday approved the closure of seven crossings with Serbia. Migrants continued streaming in through fields.

“You can’t physically close the border without a fence,” Milanovic said. “Let them explain how to close a border across 100 kilometres of flatlands.”

He hinted that instead of allowing them to pass to Slovenia, Croatia could channel them north. “Hungary is closer,” he said.

The main migration route across the Balkans, from Turkey, across Greece, Macedonia and Serbia, previously led to Hungary.

With Zagreb officials saying they will not hold the migrants, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said a fence will immediately be extended along the border with Croatia.

Work on the first 42-kilometre segment of the fence has started, with 1,600 soldiers sent to do the job, Orban said.

Milanovic’s cabinet drew fire from the opposition, neighbouring states and the European Union for its handling of the crisis.

The conservative opposition wants tight control over the border and criticized the ill-prepared response that left the national Red Cross out of food and shelters for migrants on the second day of the crisis.

Milanovic’s remarks that people who risked lives to reach Europe will not be stopped and that they should be allowed passage were condemned as “dangerous” by Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar.

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.

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.

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