Balkans bottlenecks leaves refugees stranded at borders


Diplomatic tensions flared Monday amid chaos at the Slovenian, Croatian and Serbian borders as the slower intake of refugees created bottlenecks, while migrants continued to arrive from the south.

Hundreds of people were slowly filtering across the border from Croatia to Slovenia during the day, some through designated corridors, but many by sneaking across elsewhere, the Zagreb daily Jutarnji List said online.

A crowd of more than 1,000 people had spent a rough night outside after Slovenia on Sunday stopped allowing the migrants – mainly people fleeing wars in the Middle East – to pass. More refugees arrived overnight and in the morning.

Slovenian leaders criticized their Croatian counterparts, saying they ignored an agreement by sending too many additional refugees from the border with Serbia.

“The situation is certainly tense and problems are multiplying because Croatia is not respecting some agreements, but brings too many migrants to our border,” Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said.

Earlier, Interior Minister Vesna Gyorkos Znidar blasted Croatia’s transport of people as “unacceptable.”

Cerar said that Slovenia will intensify the control over its border in order to keep the number of refugees manageable.

Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic, however, shrugged off all criticism and said his country can only continue shuttling people westwards.

“If anyone wants Croatia to be the wall, fine, but the decision must come from the European Union,” Ostojic told reporters in the Opatovac reception centre on the border with Serbia.

Slovenia and Croatia are both a part of the EU, but only Slovenia is within EU’s border-free Schengen zone comprising 26 countries.

A spokeswoman for EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on Monday warned the two countries, along with their neighbour, EU and Schengen member Hungary, to cooperate and make sure that refugees are fully registered.

The three countries “are bound by a common European asylum system and what we are trying to check now is the extent to which the measures that are being undertaken,” said spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud.

Croatia started letting more people in from the Serbian side on Monday afternoon after a slowdown, apparently triggered by Slovenian border closure to refugees 300 kilometres west, forced some 1,500-2,500 people to stand for hours in the rain.

Slovenia said earlier that it can process about 2,500 migrants per day, but Croatia is letting many more through.

The situation is set to become even more tense, as the UN refugee agency UNHCR said Monday that another 10,000 people were moving through Serbia from the Macedonian border in the south.

In Greece, the coast guard rescued 2,400 people attempting to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey, state TV ERT1 reported.

It also said that one of the main EU refugee and migrant reception centres on the Greek island of Lesbos was overwhelmed. It can process 2,500 people daily, but more than 5,000 were already waiting as more steadily arrived from Turkey.

Slovenia became a new major link on the Balkan migration route – used by people from the Middle East, Asia and Africa trying to reach Europe – after Hungary sealed its border with Croatia on Saturday.

Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Middle Eastern refugees, passed along the Balkan route this year, starting in Turkey, then across the Aegean to Greece, and then Macedonia and Serbia.

Initially, most people took the final westward leg of their trip through Hungary, but have had to seek different routes as that country has grown increasingly hostile to migrants, first blocking its border with Serbia in mid-September, then with Croatia.

Facing that, Croatia on Saturday started channeling the migrants toward Slovenia.

Only a handful of people sought asylum in the transit countries, with most seeking to reach richer Western European nations.