Hungarian police on Wednesday fired tear gas and water cannon to push back hundreds of immigrants trying to enter the country as a wave of other asylum seekers sought alternative routes to take them deep inside the European Union.
The immigrants, camped at the border with Serbia after Hungary slammed its doors to asylum seekers Tuesday, hurled bottles and rocks at police in riot gear as they tried to break through border barricades near the Hungarian village of Roszke.
Police drove them back. At least 20 police were injured, said Gyorgy Bakondi, an aide to Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
An undetermined number of asylum seekers were also hurt, media reports said. The human rights group Amnesty International said one of its representatives had seen three injured children.
In response, Hungary closed its two border crossings at Roszke for 30 days, including the highway linking Belgrade with Budapest.
Croatia, Slovenia and Austria, meanwhile, began scrambling to deal with the thousands of migrants it anticipates after Hungary sealed its border. The move rerouted the Balkan migration route for people fleeing countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq from Hungarian soil to its three EU partners.
Croatia said it will allow unfettered passage through the country and build shelters for the travellers and even hinted that it might establish corridors with its western neighbor Slovenia.
“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.
As migrants began arriving in Croatia Wednesday, he said authorities were ready to transport some across the country.
“It doesn’t matter which colour or faith they are,” he said. “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.”
Until it sealed its border, Hungary was the main gateway for more than 100,000 migrants. Many are trying to reach Germany, France and Sweden.
Most of the asylum seekers camped near Roszke had left for Croatia as Amnesty International described the conditions for the approximately 1,000 people who remained as “abysmal and rapidly deteriorating.”
The immigrants are sleeping in the open on a closed highway with limited access to food, running water and toilets, it said.
“Guarding borders with violent means is not compatible with European values and principles,” EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos warned during a debate in the European Parliament in Brussels.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed shock at Hungary’s treatment of the immigrants and pleaded for compassion.
“I ask those standing in the way of the rights of refugees to stand in their shoes,” Ban said. “People facing barrel bombs and brutality in their country will continue to seek life in another.”
Serbia protested that tear gas was shot across the border into its territory while Hungary criticized the lack of response from Serb police to help quell the unrest.
Since Hungary began enforcing severe anti-migrant measures Tuesday, far fewer asylum seekers have been arriving there: 366 on Tuesday, compared with 9,380 on Monday.
In Roszke, workers began hauling away trash and dismantling a now nearly empty tent camp that had sheltered thousands in recent weeks.
Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said his country expects 3,000 people stranded at Serbia’s border with Hungary and another 1,000 from Presevo in southern Serbia to arrive. The country “can handle the first wave … and accommodate 1,500 a day without putting up tented camps,” he said.
The figure is set to be higher, however, as migrants continue pressing from the south. Macedonian police said Wednesday that 2,107 new arrivals were registered in the previous 24 hours.
Ostojic hinted that Croatia and Slovenia might open a corridor for the migrants rerouted from Hungary. As the vast majority seek to reach Germany, the path would have to lead to Austria.
“I talked [on the phone] with the Slovenian interior minister,” Ostojic said, according to a tweet from the Croatian government. “If necessary, we will organize corridors.”
Landmines infest parts of Croatia’s border with Serbia and Bosnia since 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 said by telephone.
The change of the migration flow in Serbia prompted Austria to impose controls on the border with Slovenia, Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said.