Migrants head to Croatia as Hungary shuts borders
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Croatia found itself dragged into the migrant crisis on Wednesday as migrants crossed into Serbia's western neighbour after Hungary locked down its frontier.
Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said that 277 migrants had so far entered Croatia from Serbia after changing their route following Hungary’s closure of its border.
“The number is rising,” he told parliament.
A Reuters cameraman saw at least 100 migrants walk through cornfields into EU member Croatia, most having arrived by bus from Serbia's southern border with Macedonia to the western town of Sid on the Croatian border.
Serbian media reported that at least 10 migrant buses had left for Sid from the southern Serbian town of Presevo, where several thousand enter every day from Macedonia, streaming north across the Balkan peninsula.
A journalist on the Croatian side of the border saw the first group of migrants rounded up by Croatian police and taken away to be registered.
Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic called a meeting of the country's security council to discuss the migrant crisis, warning of its “possible social, economic and security implications”. The session could be held either on Friday or next Tuesday.
While Croatia has yet to devise a specific policy on how it will handle the influx of migrants, the country said that for the moment they would be allowed free passage across its territory.
De-mining experts have also been sent to border areas amid concerns of the threat posed by minefields left over from the country’s 1991-1995 war.
Hungary closed off
Hundreds more desperate people were trapped behind the razor-wire fence hastily erected by Hungary along its border with Serbia in an attempt to stop the migrant flow through Balkan countries. Hungary's right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban has announced plans for a similar barrier to be built on its frontier with Romania.
Budapest also made its first arrests under tough new laws punishing "illegal border-crossing" or damaging the border fence with prison terms of up to three years.
The controversial measures are part of Orban's strategy to stem the flow of migrants – more than 200,000 of whom have entered his country so far this year – travelling from Greece and transiting through the western Balkans and Hungary, most of them headed on via Austria to Germany.
But the Hungarian fences have sparked fears in Serbia of an unmanageable number of migrants.
Serbian’s Minister for Refugees Aleksandar Vulin urged Hungary to reopen its border, "at least for women and children", speaking to AFP at the Horgos crossing, where around 100 people were waiting for the frontier to reopen.
Hungary's moves have been sharply criticised, with the UN refugee agency saying it could be in violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
The Council of Europe also said it was "concerned" about the new legislation and would ask Orban for an explanation.
"I will also ask for reassurances that if a 'state of crisis' is declared, Hungary will remain committed to its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights," Secretary General Thorbjoern Jagland said Tuesday.
Romania, which is a member of the EU but not of the passport-free Schengen zone, also criticised the fence planned along its own border as "out of step with the spirit of Europe".
Human rights group Amnesty International charged that "meeting those fleeing conflict and persecution with razor wire, troops and draconian new laws, Hungary is showing the ugly face of Europe's shambolic response to the growing refugee crisis".
'Time running out'
In Berlin, Merkel and her Austrian counterpart Werner Faymann called for European solidarity to end the chaos and proposed a special EU summit next week.
"Time is running out," Merkel warned, urging an end to the squabbling that has grown more acrimonious since eastern members flatly refused to accept EU-set quotas for taking in refugees.
"We can manage this," Merkel insisted, while defending Berlin's decision last Sunday to reinstate border controls on security grounds, after over 60,000 migrants had arrived in Germany so far this month.
EU officials later announced a meeting of interior ministers for September 22.
Berlin's move to bring back border controls has sparked a domino effect, with Austria and Slovakia also reimposing identity checks in a further blow to Europe's much-vaunted Schengen zone.
With Poland and the Netherlands also considering similar measures, there are fears the Schengen system could collapse, even though its rules do allow states to impose temporary controls for security reasons.
While European leaders squabbled over how to manage the continent's biggest migrant influx since World War II, the exodus from war-torn Middle Eastern countries claimed more lives.
Another shipwreck off Turkey killed 22 refugees – among them four children and 11 women – who had tried to reach Europe, where more than half a million people have arrived this year to seek safe haven.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)