Croatian police hold back migrants as Slovenian efforts to limit the number of arrivals and Hungary’s move to close its border cause knock-on effects
More than 10,000 migrants are currently in Serbia, stranded by limits imposed further west in Europe, the UN refugee agency said on Monday, and warned of shortages in aid.
Thousands of people clamoured to enter Croatia from Serbia on Monday after a night spent in the cold and mud, their passage west slowed by a Slovenian effort to limit the flow of refugees into western Europe.
“We can only say that there are more than 10,000 refugees in Serbia,” UNHCR spokeswoman Melita Sunjic said. “It is like a big river of people, and if you stop the flow, you will have floods somewhere. That’s what’s happening now.”
“There is a lack of food, lack of blankets, we are missing everything,” Sunjic said.
The refugees at the border were held back by Croatian police, where refugee camps are full to capacity. In western Croatia, up to 2,000 more people spent the night on a train stranded near the border with fellow EU member Slovenia, which was refusing entry.
With Hungary closing its border with Croatia to migrants at midnight on Friday, the unrelenting flow has been diverted to Slovenia en route to Austria and Germany, the favoured destination for many refugees from the Syrian war.
But Slovenia has imposed a daily limit of around 2,500 arrivals, saying it will only take in as many people as can then exit into Austria.
Slovenia said Austria was accepting a maximum of 1,500 people, far fewer than were previously entering from Hungary, although the Austrian interior ministry said it could not confirm this.
Upwards of 5,000 people are crossing the Serbian-Croatian border daily, from Greece where they arrive by boat from Turkey, into Macedonia and Serbia, which barely the capacity to cope.
A Reuters reporter on the Serbian side of the border said there was no apparent police presence to help maintain order. The refugees were cold and tired. They chanted: “Open the gate, open the gate!”
The arrival of a projected 700,000 migrants this year to Europe’s shores – fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia by boat across the Mediterranean and Aegean – has exposed deep and often ugly divisions in the EU.
Hungary’s rightwing government says the mainly Muslim migrants pose a threat to Europe’s prosperity, security and “Christian values”, and has sealed its borders with Serbia and Croatia with a steel fence and stringent new laws that rights groups say deny refugees their right to seek protection.