Hungary begins extending border fence to Croatia


Hungary began extending its fence against migrants along the border with EU-partner Croatia after completing one along the border with Serbia, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Friday, as the migration crisis strained relations in the Balkans.

“Last night work was started on the fence along the border with Croatia,” Orban, a conservative with a strong stance against immigration, told national radio.

A workforce of 600 soldiers that began erecting the fence on a 41-kilometre segment of the border will be joined by another 1,000 troops before the weekend, Orban said.

Hungary’s border with Croatia is 355 kilometres long. Budapest already completed a fence, 4-metres tall and laced with razor wire, along the 175-kilometre border with Serbia.

Hungary on Tuesday sealed the fence and instituted a state of emergency in counties bordering Serbia, intending to block migrants after more than 100,000 arrived across the previously porous border.

Nearly all wanted to continue their journey west, most of all to apply for asylum in Germany, France and Sweden.

The blockade diverted the flow of migrants, mostly refugees from Syria and other war-afflicted areas in the Middle East, to Croatia in the west. Croatian police said Friday morning that 13,300 people illegally entered from Serbia since Tuesday.

The surge prompted Croatia to close several border crossings with Serbia late Thursday, but local media said that people meanwhile continued arriving through fields and orchards.

Serbian Welfare Minister Aleksandar Vulin responded to the closure of seven border crossings by threatening an international lawsuit.

Migrants who reached Croatia could continue west toward Slovenia or again try their luck with Hungary to the north, at least until it extends the fence. Budapest, however, on Thursday also declared a state of emergency in counties bordering Croatia.

Meanwhile, Croatia refused to take in a group of migrants that Slovenia intercepted Thursday evening, including around 150 on an international train. Ljubljana intended to return them on a train, but Croatia refused, Slovenian news agency STA said Friday.

Amid the reverse tug-of-war over migrants stuck at the Dobovo train station on the border, Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar sharply criticized Croatian officials late Thursday over their handling of the crisis.

Cerar said that a statement by Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic earlier this week, in whcih he suggested opening a westward corridor to the migrants wanting to press on to western Europe, was “unfair and dangerous.”

“Such statements are not only unfair, because they allege something that has never happened, but also dangerous, because they promise something that cannot happen,” Cerar told state TV.

Austria, which is the gateway to Germany both from Slovenia and Hungary, introduced border checks at the three main border crossings with Slovenia.

Both it and Slovenia are also checking their border with Hungary, though all three are a part of the European Union’s passport-free Schengen zone, which is now being tested by the migration crisis.