Croatia set up a migrant reception centre in the eastern village of Opatovac yesterday the hope of injecting order into the unrelenting chaos that has gripped the small Balkan country overwhelmed by thousands seeking sanctuary in Europe.
About 27,000 people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have entered the nation of 4.2 million since Hungary shut its border with Serbia last Tuesday. That closure blocked many migrants, who found their way blocked as governments clashed over who should take responsibility for them.
Stung by criticism that his country had done little to help, Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic visited the camp and boarded a bus full of asylum-seekers. He introduced himself by his first name and told the group they had nothing to fear.
“You will be here for short time in the camp to take refreshments, foods, what you need and then you will be transported to Europe,” he said. “Please follow instructions of the police. Everything will be OK. Thank you.”
At the new centre, police erected a metal fence, dividing migrants from media. Exhausted asylum-seekers hung washing on a fence as they recovered from days spent walking from border to border, hoping to go further north to Germany or Scandinavia.
The new centre is expected to register the asylum-seekers and then arrange for transport onward. But some were worried, even though they have been promised they will eventually be sent to Hungary or Slovenia.
“Now we’re waiting for their decision,” said Salakh Arbash, 18, from Syria. “We don’t know what will happen.”
Croatia’s move is only a small reflection of the intense pressure countries in southeastern Europe have felt as the influx continues.
The Hungarian government has warned migrants not to enter the country illegally, saying it is a crime punishable by imprisonment.
In a full-page advertisement in Lebanon’s leading An-Nahar daily, the government said “the strongest possible action is taken” against people who try to enter Hungary illegally.
In another reflection of Europe’s concerns, Poland’s former president, Lech Walesa, said refugees must be ready to respect the rules and religion in predominantly Catholic Poland if they are to be accepted.
The Solidarity founder said that rules for admission are needed, amid fears that over time religious and social problems will emerge.
“If someone agrees to the rules, he is admitted; if not, that’s his choice,” he said.
The European Union wants Poland and other member states to accept asylum-seekers, but is at odds with member states for EU nations to share 120,000 refugees.