Croatian PM says country is full to capacity for refugees

Refugees at the railway station in Beli Manastir, near the Hungarian border in north-east Croatia. Picture by AP
PA reporter

CROATIAN prime minister Zoran Milanovic says his country cannot and will not close its borders to refugees, and is transporting people to Hungary and Slovenia and further towards western Europe.

Mr Milanovic said Croatia’s capacity to take in refugees is full and authorities can no longer register people in accordance with EU rules.

The operation got under way as 19 buses carried refugees across the border to Beremend, Hungary, where they were put on Hungarian buses. It was not clear where they were taken next. 

Those asking for asylum will have their requests decided quickly, under law passed this week, while the rest could be sent back to Croatia.

The Croatian government earlier closed all but one border crossing with Serbia after more than 14,000 refugees entered Croatia by that route following a move by Hungary to close its border.

Mr Milanovic said: “What else can we do? You are welcome in Croatia and you can pass through Croatia. But go on. Not because we don’t like you but because this is not your final destination.”

The Croatian move sparked anger from Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia.

Serbia fears the closure will block thousands of refugees inside the country, and social affairs minister Aleksandar Vulin said Serbia will take Croatia to international courts if the border crossings remain closed.

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said that although Croatia knew what it would be confronted with, its “supply system collapsed in a single day. Hungary has been holding its own for the ninth consecutive month”.

Mr Kovacs said it was “totally unacceptable for a European country to not respect European rules just because it was unprepared”, predicting that Croatia would be “set back by many years” in its efforts to join the EU’s Schengen zone of passport-free travel.

Slovenia has been returning refugees to Croatia and has stopped all rail traffic between the two countries.

Despite the move to close most border points, refugees are still pouring into Croatia. Most of them want to move on towards Germany or the Scandinavian countries.

Croatian authorities say the situation is worst in the eastern town of Beli Manastir, where thousands of refugees have converged and caught local authorities unprepared.

About 2,000 people also gathered in the border town of Tovarnik waiting for bus or train rides to refugee centres in the capital Zagreb and elsewhere.

The UN refugee agency warned of a “build-up” of refugees in Serbia.


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