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Croatia 'cannot accept any more refugees' as thousands enter in one day

AFP | Migrants waiting to board a train at a station near the border town of Tovarnik, Croatia

Croatia cannot take in any more refugees, the country's interior minister said on Thursday, amid chaotic scenes of helmeted riot police trying to contain the more than 8,000 who have entered the country from Serbia in the past 24 hours.

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Police said more than 8,900 asylum-seekers have crossed into Croatia in the two days since Hungary sealed off its borders, forcing refugees to find alternative routes into the EU.

Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said Thursday that Croatia would provide migrants with safe passage to reception centres around the capital, Zagreb, but that those not seeking asylum would be considered illegal immigrants.

"Croatia will not be able to receive more people," Ostojic told reporters in the town of Tovarnik on Croatia’s eastern border with Serbia.

Ostojic said later that Croatia would have to join Hungary in closing its doors to migrants if the refugee influx does not abate.

"Croatia will close its border with Serbia if we see another 8,000 migrants entering the country in one day," he said.

Migrants have poured into Croatia after their initial plan of cutting through Hungary was met with violent resistance. Migrants clashed with Hungarian riot police at the border line over a fence that Hungary has built the length of its southern frontier.

Those who try to cross the fence illegally have been arrested, tried and expelled.

“I'm going to Croatia. Here the border is closed,” said a man who gave his name as Abed and said he was from the devastated Syrian city of Homs. “Maybe the border to Croatia is open, maybe it is closed, but we are going to try."

But Croatia, the EU’s newest member, says its resources are now stretched to the limit. Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic told state media Wednesday that the country could cope with several thousand migrants, but not with tens of thousands, as Croatia braced itself for many more migrants to slip into the country in the coming weeks.

"We expect a peak within the next two weeks ... more than 20,000 migrants," Health Minister Sinisa Varga told state TV.

Too high a number

President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic on Thursday said that too many refugees had entered without first going through border controls, and that the safety of Croatian citizens and the stability of the Croatian state must come first.

Most of the migrants, many of whom are refugees fleeing wars and persecution in the Middle East, want to reach Slovenia, which lies north of Croatia, and is the entryway to Europe’s Schengen zone of border-free travel.

That puts Austria next in line before they reach Germany and Scandinavian countries, the preferred destinations for many migrants.

Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said his country would stick to the Schengen rules, which require it to register and fingerprint migrants and asylum seekers on arrival. Many refugees have refused to be registered and destroyed their identity papers in their quest to reach Germany.

His government has said it will receive asylum requests, but like Croatia, not create a "corridor" for refugees to simply pass through Slovenia and into Austria.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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