Croatia will not build a fence on its border with Serbia and will treat refugees and migrants on its territory as human beings, Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic told a press conference outside the Opatovac reception centre in eastern Croatia, praising everyone involved there in the reception and transit of refugees and migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
“Croatia is dealing with this issue in negotiations between the European Union and Turkey and in talks on at least one aspect of this problem, namely the war in Syria, where the EU alone is not enough and everyone should get involved,” Pusic said.
Citing a ten-point plan for a European agreement on the refugee policy, put forward by Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Minister of Economic Affairs Sigmar Gabriel, which was published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper in August, Pusic said that the refugee crisis was a turning point at which Europe should decide whether it wanted to be a land of wire fences and walls or a continent of cooperation which would find political ways to resolve conflicts that cause migrations like this one.
“If the European border is to be defended, it is well known where it should be defended. Croatia has sent a police vessel and crew to the border between Greece and Turkey, which is the border of both the Schengen area and Europe. If someone wants to defend the European border, they should defend it there and not between EU member states,” Pusic said. She added that Hungary had been threatening for long to close its border with Croatia, while at the same time allowing refugees through its territory, “which is a very unusual approach”.
Pusic said that the EU would have to help not only transition countries, such as Croatia, but also Germany, which “took a very brave stance in talks on quotas.” She reiterated that the problem of refugees and migrants was being actively addressed in cooperation with Turkey, and that efforts should be made to stop the fighting in Syria at least for the winter because it would take a long time before peace was achieved there. “That’s the way to address this problem. There’s no other way,” she said, adding that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had saved “Europe’s face” with her position on the refugees.
When asked by the press about her impression of whether people arriving in Croatia were predominantly refugees or economic migrants, Pusic said that statistics, and not her impression, showed that 68 per cent of them were refugees and 32 per cent were economic migrants.
Pusic toured the reception centre in the company of Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic and talked to volunteers and staff responsible for the reception of refugees. She also met with Human Rights Ombudswoman Lora Vidovic, who said that the Opatovac reception centre should be closed because it had become colder and rain had become more frequent.
“The Human Rights Ombudswoman has been here since day one and we follow her advice. It is no longer acceptable to stay here for three to six hours and that’s why we have decided to set up a winter transit centre,” Ostojic said.
A winter transit centre is being prepared in Slavonski Bod, 200 km east of Zagreb, and as soon as it becomes operational the Opatovac centre will be closed. Ostojic would not speculate as to when this might be, saying that the Slavonski Brod centre could be opened within 24 hours but that the authorities wanted it to be fully functional before it was opened.