Croatia on Monday became the latest country to ask the European Union for material help, such as beds and tents, to cope with the surge of refugees and asylum seekers crossing the country in an effort to reach Western Europe.
Europe is contending with its largest population movement since World War II, with almost 700,000 migrants and asylum seekers arriving by sea this year – many of them from war-torn Syria.
Tens of thousands have been crossing the western Balkans to make their way from Turkey to wealthy northern European countries such as Germany and Sweden, straining resources and overwhelming authorities in countries of transit.
On Monday, the European Commission announced that Zagreb had activated the EU’s civil protection mechanism, set up for member states and some candidate countries to seek non-financial aid in the wake of disasters.
“Croatia has requested material support such as winter tents, beds, blankets, mattresses and sanitary equipment,” the EU’s executive added in a statement.
The Western Balkan migration route stretches from the Turkish coast across Greece to Macedonia, through Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, and onwards to Austria.
Slovenia, which is the hardest hit of the Balkan countries due to its small size, had activated the civil protection mechanism on October 22. The Czech Republic and Hungary have also sought EU assistance under the scheme.
The Croatian request follows an emergency meeting of 11 EU and Balkan leaders in Brussels on Sunday, at which they promised to control more closely the flow of migrants across ther territories and to prepare shelters, amid fears that people may begin dying in the winter cold.
According to police figures from Monday, Croatia processed 256,255 migrants from mid-September until Sunday at midnight.
Before September 16, the migrants were mostly passing to Austria through Hungary, which has since sealed its borders.