Hungary shuts Croatian border to migrant flow

Hungarian police and soldiers close the border between Hungary and Croatia in Botovo yesterday. Picture: Getty
Hungarian police and soldiers close the border between Hungary and Croatia in Botovo yesterday. Picture: Getty
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HUNGARY closed its border with Croatia to the free flow of migrants yesterday, shutting off another route for the tens of thousands of people fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia towards what they hope is a better life in western Europe.

The decision prompted Croatia to redirect thousands of people – including women and small children already soaked by cold rain – further west towards its border with Slovenia, the small European Union member state which has no capacity to process large numbers wishing to head for Austria and Germany.

Migrants arriving from Tovarnik prepare to cross the border to Hungary. Picture: Getty

Migrants arriving from Tovarnik prepare to cross the border to Hungary. Picture: Getty

The closure could leave thousands stranded in Croatia and further east and south in Serbia and Macedonia.

Several buses packed with migrants arrived in the Slovenian border town of Petisovci early yesterday from Croatia. Police spokeswoman Suzana Raus said that, after processing, most of them will be moved towards the Austrian border.

“We have been in the cold since two in the morning in Serbia,” said Omar Thaqfa, 33, from Mosul in Iraq. “We were sitting in the street. Very cold. Inshallah, I am going to Germany.”

Slovenia has said it would strengthen border controls and create entry points for migrants to manage the influx, but would keep accepting migrants as long as Austria and Germany kept their borders open.

Croatia has said it will close its border with Serbia if Slovenia does the same with Croatia.

Migrants had been coming through Croatia to get to Hungary and then further west. But Hungary blocked that route at midnight on Friday when police in full gear pulled a barbed-wire fence over a passage on the border with Croatia through which some 140,000 migrants have passed since mid-September.

Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto announced the decision to close the border after a meeting of the national security cabinet on Friday.

“The Hungarian government has taken the steps … to protect the internal European freedoms and the security of the citizens of Hungary and Europe,” government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said minutes after the shutdown.

Hungary decided to order the border clampdown after EU leaders who met on Thursday in Brussels failed to agree on a plan backed by Hungary to send EU forces to block migrants from reaching Greece.

“We know that this is not the best but only the second-best solution,” Szijjarto said.

He said normal border checkpoints with Croatia would remain open, though inspections will be tightened. “We will introduce stricter controls to be able to block border crossings done illegally,” Szijjarto added.

Although Croatia is also a member of the EU, unlike Hungary it is not part of the Schengen zone of passport-free travel. Slovenia is in the Schengen zone.

More than 383,000 migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have entered Hungary this year, nearly all passing through on their way to Germany and other destinations further west in the EU. The country closed its border with Serbia with a similar razor wire fence on 15 September.

Slovenia: First migrants arrive

The United Nations refugee agency believes Slovenia has the capacity to accept some 7,000 migrants coming to the country on their way towards western Europe.

UNHCR spokeswoman Caroline Van Buren said at Slovenia’s border with Croatia yesterday that “all is going well” as the first groups of migrants started arriving in the small Alpine nation.

The flow shifted to Slovenia after Hungary sealed its border with Croatia for migrants shortly after midnight on Friday. Most of the people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia want to reach rich EU nations such as Germany.

Slovenia has said it will accept migrants as long as Austria and Germany keep their borders open. Several hundred people have come so far, with more expected today.