Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said on Thursday in Split that the situation with refugees in Croatia was not dramatic but that it was grave.
“We cannot take in a lot of people,” Milanovic warned adding however that there was no need for panic.
He reported that this morning he had held 90-minute long talks with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann. “We didn’t discuss the Champions League or banks but the refugee crisis. Austria is currently hosting more than 50,000 people and they will remain there. They won’t stay in Croatia. They will pass through Croatia. At the moment we cannot accept a lot of people,” Milanovic said and reiterated that the current situation was not threatening for Croatia and that in a way, it could absorb a lot more people but at the moment it was not possible to say how many.
Milanovic said that the refugees would go to other country, to get to Schengen and that means Hungary and Slovenia. “For two days now we have shown that we are a civilised and organised state,” he added.
He underscored that he had joined in an initiative put forward by Austrian Chancellor Faymann and German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a few other prime ministers for an extraordinary meeting of the European Council to discuss the migrant issue and to see whether an agreement can be reached which obviously did not happen at the ministerial level.
“What is occurring in Hungary is disgusting. That won’t occur in Croatia. We won’t raise fences,” he said.
Milanovic believes that the problem starts in Greece. “Greece, a country in the the Schengen area, is allowing boats with thousands of people to come to its islands from Turkey whose lives are not threatened there because Turkey is a safe country. There is obviously some tacit deal not to prevent them from arriving on Schengen territory, although it could be done very easily by the Greek coast guard without any violence just like our police do with those people who unauthorised enter our territorial sea. Whether this is some sort of Greek revenge against Germany and Europe, I don’t know because that’s where the migrants are going and that’s a fact,” he said. He added that people were arriving in Greece with organised transport, then on to Macedonia and further north.
“We in Croatia will not keep them here. No one will force us to. Our resources are limited. Our hearts may be big but our possibilities are not,” he said.
Asked by reporters if he was surprised at the number of migrants, he said that he wasn’t and expected that the number could be even higher. He added that he also expected them to quickly move through Croatia not because the Croatians don’t like them but because that’s a reality.
Asked to comment the EU’s attitude that Croatia cannot be a corridor for refugees toward Slovenia and that refugees needed to possess documents and be registered, Milanovic said that “unfortunately that won’t be the case.”
Asked whether Croatia would allow refugees to transit through it, Milanovic answered rhetorically. “How can we stop them, by beating them, with dogs, a fence? We’ve seen what’s happening in Hungary. I don’t want to nor will I stop these people. They will pass through Croatia. If we manage to register them, we will if there is going to be too many we won’t be able to. Hungary has deliberately been allowing people through for six months without registering anyone and they went to Germany. We will give it our best but I cannot guarantee that we will manage. They are going to Germany, Sweden and Austria,” he concluded.
Reporters were interested in the scenario if Slovenia decided to close the border, Milanovic said, “Slovenia can close the border crossings but it cannot shut down hundreds of kilometres of the border. It would need to be physically closed.”
Defence Minister Ante Kotromanovic on Thursday assessed that the current situation with refugees in Croatia was not dramatic but if it were to become so, the Croatian army was ready to protect its interests on the border.
Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic on Thursday evening said that facilities at the Zagreb Fair could receive 1,200 refugees and that in the next 48 hours space would be made available to accept another two thousand people.