EU calls migration summit as Croatia stumbles under refugee wave


EU leaders will hold a special summit next week on Europe’s migration crisis, EU President Donald Tusk said Thursday, as Croatia appeared ready to buckle on the second day of a wave of rerouted asylum seekers.

Croatian Health Minister Sinisa Varga estimated 20,000 people would arrive in his country over the next two weeks, but it had serious problems even with those who arrived in the first 36 hours since neighbouring Hungary closed its doors to the asylum seekers.

Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said Croatia is aware of its obligations under EU law to register incoming migrants but admitted he was unsure that it could.

“We will be constructive and cooperative, but our capabilities … are limited,” he said after meeting Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann in Zagreb. “There are limits to our capacity. After that, I don’t know whether we can document all the people.”

An official in eastern Croatia said the situation in Tovarnik, a village where police initially bring the migrants, swiftly sank into chaos.

“All of us in Tovarnik are witnessing a humanitarian catastrophe,” said Bozo Galic, chief of the regional government. “Despite assistance from the population, police, the Red Cross and others, it turned out that the government has no plan for this after all.”

At the same time, the national Red Cross ran out of food and stopped supplying its distribution centres, the Vecernji List newspaper reported, quoting spokeswoman Katarina Zoric.

The EU summit will be held Wednesday after several leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, had pushed for the crisis talks. The bloc is struggling with strained resources and tensions over how to handle Europe’s biggest influx of refugees and migrants since World War II.

They are also now faced with shifting migration flows. Thousands of immigrants in Macedonia and Serbia are expected to look for passage through Croatia and Slovenia en route to Western Europe after the previous gateway, Hungary, sealed its border Tuesday to migrants.

About 7,300 migrants entered Croatia across the green border with Serbia from Wednesday morning to Thursday noon, Croatian police said.

Ruza Veselcic Sijakovic, the mayor of Tovarnik, their first stop, said her town of 1,500 people was “unable to cope with a problem of this magnitude,” Vecernji List reported.

Tensions rose among migrants crowding the local train station in the morning because no transport was available after a train took about 1,000 people in the early morning. Authorities eventually organized buses in the afternoon for transport out of Tovarnik.

It was also tense in the collection centre in Jezevo, 30 kilometres east of Zagreb, where about 800 migrants were brought in the morning.

People in the shelter lined the perimeter fence, demanding to be allowed to continue their journey towards Western Europe, the daily 24Sata said.

They also complain that they were hungry and thirsty and unable to communicate without an Arabic-speaking translator.

According to police data, close to 2,000 people were distributed in Jezevo and five other centres.

Migrants began arriving in Croatia after Hungary slammed its doors after letting more than 140,000 immigrants pass into Austria.

Hungary built a mesh and razor wire fence along its border with Serbia, enacted prison terms against border trespassing and used force Wednesday when frustrated migrants travelling for weeks tried to break through barriers at the border with Serbia.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Thursday, after meeting EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, that police reacted to an attack of “aggressive people.”

Avramopoulos charged that Hungary’s wall “only serves to divert [migrant] flows or escalate tensions.”

“Passing on the refugee problem from one country to another is not a solution,” he said, adding that most of the people arriving were “in genuine need of our protection” and would not be stopped in their run from violence and terrorism.

In the end, EU membership candidates Serbia and Macedonia – both of which are poorer than any country in the bloc – may end up with the bulk of the refugees.

“Western Balkans must not become a parking lot or no man’s land for stranded refugees,” EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in Brussels. “We cannot blame [the Balkan states] for lax border controls if our own member states don’t do their job.”

Szijjarto called for a “European force” to protect the borders of Greece, which is the chief European entry point for migrants arriving through Turkey and urged the EU to finance refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon for those fleeing wars in the region.

If such proposals were made, Hungary might be willing to discuss contentious EU refugee redistribution plans, which Budapest has so far fiercely opposed, he said.