Refugees can’t stay, says Croatian prime minister

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic. Picture: AFP/Getty ImagesCroatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
FACED with thousands of migrants streaming in, Croatia declared yesterday that it was overwhelmed and would tell those on an arduous trek to reach the safety of western Europe to keep moving on toward Hungary or Slovenia.

With more than 14,000 migrants arriving in just two days, Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic declared his nation of 4.2 million could no longer cope and asylum seekers could not stay.

“What else can we do?” Milanovic said at a news conference. “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.”

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The policy is sure increase tensions along Croatia’s borders with Hungary and Slovenia, which are also turning people away as they seek to stem the tide of migrants.

Huge numbers have surged into Croatia after Hungary erected a barbed wire fence on its border with Serbia and took other tough measures to stop migrants from coming in, including spraying crowds at the border with tear gas and water cannons.

Croatia represents a longer and more difficult route to the wealthier nations of the European Union, but those fleeing violence in their homelands, such as Syrians and Iraqis, had little choice.

Croatia closed all but one of its border crossings with Serbia after chaotic scenes on Thursday where dozens of migrants were trampled in the rush to get a seat on a bus or train. Milanovic appealed yesterday to the European Union to step in and help. “We have a heart but we also have a brain,” he said.

Most migrants don’t want to stay in Croatia. Just one woman with children has requested asylum in Croatia since the influx started, Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic said.

The UN refugee agency warned yesterday of a “buildup” of migrants in Serbia as its neighbours tightened their borders. “The crisis is growing and being pushed from one country to another,” said Adrian Edwards of UNHCR. “You aren’t going to solve these problems by closing borders.”

The human misery was evident in Croatian towns like Beli Manastir, near the border with Hungary. Migrants slept on streets, on train tracks and at a local petrol station. People scrambled to board local buses without knowing where they were going.

Hundreds of others were stranded on a large Danube river bridge in the Serbian town of Bezdan after Croatian authorities closed all but one border crossing with Serbia. A large crane lifted barriers on to the bridge.

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The group, including many women and children, stood in a no man’s land in the middle of the tall bridge in the scorching heat with little water or food.

Despite the border closures, many kept slipping into Croatia through the cornfields. Women carrying children and people in wheelchairs were among the thousands rushing in the hopes of finding refuge.

Hungary, meanwhile, started building another razor-wire fence overnight, this time along a stretch of its border with Croatia.