Croatia channels refugees to Slovenia

2015-10-17 20:01
A migrant carrying a child heads to cross a border line between Serbia and Croatia. (Darko Vojinovic, AP)

A migrant carrying a child heads to cross a border line between Serbia and Croatia. (Darko Vojinovic, AP)

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Tovarnik - Refugees began arriving in Slovenia on Saturday after they were diverted from their course across the Balkans by Hungary's closure of its border with Croatia.

About 1 500 people reached the border crossing stations of Macelj and Mursko Sredisce in northern Croatia, Slovenian authorities said.

Once they are registered, they will be allowed to travel onward toward the border with Austria, from where many hope to reach Germany.

Hungary closed its border with Croatia to migrants and refugees early on Saturday, sending out a massive police deployment to guard the 300km border and prompting Zagreb officials to re-direct people toward Slovenia.

With thousands of refugees pouring in from Serbia after traveling across Turkey, Greece and Macedonia, Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic had said that Zagreb would send them to Slovenia by trains and buses.

At the Opatovo reception centre on Croatia's eastern border with Serbia, buses took around 1 300 registered migrants to Croatia's nearby Tovarnik station, where migrants seemed to be in good spirits as they slowly filed into a train with 15 cars, each with around 150 seats.

"I fled because of the war in Syria," said Abdullah, a 25-year-old pharmacist from Hamas. "I tried to stay in Turkey first, but I was paid half or less of what they paid local people."

After leaving Turkey only a week ago, he said the worst part of his journey so far has been across the sea.

"We were in a boat, not even a boat, something out of thin plastic, and it was turning and spinning in the waves," Abdullah said. "Two pregnant women were with us, screaming and vomiting all the time."

Punishable by law

"I only hope they will let me stay in Germany, it is a good country," he adds.

Police overseeing the boarding procedure speak to a handful of younger migrants and order them to collect the trash that others are throwing from the train windows.

Croatia's Interior Ministry has said that about 140 000 people were brought to the border with Hungary in September alone. With the change, crossing the border into Hungary is illegal and punishable under law.

Hungary's border closure applied only to migrants - mostly refugees from the Middle East - while regular traffic continued unhindered, witnesses from the Beremend crossing said shortly after the implementation.

Slovenia, which has anticipated a surge of refugees and has been taking steps to boost accommodations, reacted by suspending railway traffic with Croatia at 19:30 (17:30 GMT) on Friday. On Saturday, Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar convened his national security council.

Hungary sealed its border with Serbia to refugees on September 15, but people simply took a detour to Croatia, which shuttled them back to Hungary in the north. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told MTI news agency that the country had no plans to close its border with Slovenia, which would be against Schengen rules of free movement.

More than 180 000 people passed through Croatia over the previous month, and nearly all were transported to Hungary. Most people hope to seek asylum in Germany and other wealthy Western European countries.

Only a handful asked for asylum in one of the transit countries, which now worry that Germany may restrict immigration and cause a massive backlog to the south as the winter approaches.

Back at Tovarnik station, two Afghan teenagers from Nangahar ask what country they are in. They say they don't know where their route will take them next, only that they want to reach Germany.

"We left because it is dangerous," said Muhammad Zubai, a middle-aged Afghan from Kabul who is travelling with a small group. "There was an explosion the other day and the situation is becoming only worse."

Read more on:    slovenia  |  hungary  |  croatia  |  migrants

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