Serbia’s border with Croatia become the latest flashpoint in Europe’s refugee crisis as migrants sought alternative routes to Western Europe after Hungary slammed its doors shut.
EU member Croatia said it will allow unfettered passage through the country and build shelters for the travellers.
“We will above all have [the] interests and security of Croatia on our minds but we will not forget that we’re humans, Christians before all,” Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said in parliament.
Some 150 migrants reached Croatia on Wednesday, and the prime minister said authorities were ready to transport some across the country.
“It doesn’t matter which colour or faith they are. Those people are here, they are women, children and men who want to live and create, but they don’t want to be in Croatia,” he said.
The newest European Union state, Croatia earlier agreed to accommodate 1,064 refugees within a bloc-wide plan.
Conservative opposition Croatian Democratic Union leader Tomislav Karamarko criticized Milanovic’s government for what he said was a slow response to the crisis.
“We have been warning … plans should have been completed,” he told state TV HRT. “At the moment when Hungarians started building the fence [in June] it was clear that it was a detour toward Croatia.”
Hungary on Tuesday began enforcing severe anti-migrant measures, slowing the number of registered illegal arrivals from almost 18,800 in three days to 366 on Tuesday.
In the Hungarian village of Roszke, on the border with Serbia, workers began hauling away trash and dismantling a now nearly empty tent camp that sheltered thousands in recent weeks.
Until it sealed its border, Hungary was the main gateway for more than 100,000 migrants, mostly people fleeing violence in the Middle East. Many are trying to reach Germany, France and Sweden.
In Croatia, police said they had picked up nearly 200 migrants by noon Wednesday in the border area of Tovarnik, the Zagreb daily Jutarnji List said online.
After registration, the refugees are transported to stations in Kutina and Sisak, 230 and 270 kilometres west, toward the capital Zagreb, he said.
Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said 6,000 police officers were stationed on the border.
Much of the 320-kilometre border with Serbia is marked by the Danube river and the rest is flatlands. However, Croatia also may become exposed from Bosnia, with which it shares 1,020 kilometres of border.
Parts of Croatia’s border zone with both countries are infested by land mines because of the wars of the 1990s. It was not immediately clear whether the refugees are in danger, but minefields are marked on maps available online and migrants have already asked about them.
“They already called and were directed to the map that they can download to their smartphones,” an official at the Croatian Mine Action centre told dpa over the phone.
The change of the migration flow in Serbia prompted Austria to consider imposing border controls toward Slovenia, on the path of migrants now in Croatia.
Austria already controls the border with Hungary, but after tens of thousands of people arrived in recent weeks, it was only about 100 on Tuesday.
Germany, Slovakia and the Netherlands have also enacted new border checks.