Posted on September 17, 2015

Croatia Threatens to Close Its Borders as Thousands of Migrants Stream in from Hungary

Alix Culbertson et al., Express, September 17, 2015

Croatia has threatened to close its doors if another 8,000 migrants enter after thousands descended on the country today seeking an alternative route into the EU following the closure of the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic warned migrants against arriving to seek protection as Croatia has no capacity to recieve them.

He said: “Croatia will close its border with Serbia if we witness again 8,000 migrants entering the country in one day.

“Croatia is not interested to be a country where the migrants will seek what they can get in other countries where they are now.”

Some 9,000 migrants have entered Croatia since early Wednesday following the closure of Hungary’s border with Serbia.

Heavily armed police could only watch as hundreds of migrants massing at the frontier pushed passed the checkpoint at its border with Serbia and in the capital Zagreb.

Slovenian police were forced to halt a train on Thursday carrying the largest group of refugees that has tried to enter Slovenia since the refugee crisis erupted in Europe.

Police spokeswoman Vesna Drole said: “The train with some 200 refugees on it has been stopped.”

In Zagreb, riot police surrounded a hotel housing migrants after hundreds reportedly threw toilet paper from the upper storeys.

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has said his country is willing to accept thousands of refugees, but the huge influx prompted the interior minister to announce: “Croatia cannot receive any more people.”

Crowds of people have been forced to abandon the border between Hungary and Serbia, emptying the makeshift camps which have been the scene of violent clashes with riot police.

Buses have been laid on to take them 80 miles to the border with Croatia, which has promised to allow migrants to pass through its lands on towards western Europe.

More than 7,300 have crossed into the country in just the last two days, placing a huge strain on its limited resources. Next in line will be Slovenia, which is now bracing itself for a massive influx of migrants.

Croatia has agreed to help them journey on towards Germany, Sweden and Britain despite the fact that it is not a part of the controversial Schengen agreement.

German police said the number of refugees arriving in Germany more than doubled yesterday to 7,266.

Many thousands more were continuing their journey today as migrant camps near the border town of Horgos in Serbia–where angry migrants rioted yesterday–began to empty.

Hungary has built a giant barbed wire fence to seal its southern border with Serbia after becoming overwhelmed by the flow of migrants flooding across the frontier.

The embattled country has arrested 29 people on suspicion of illegal immigration since tough new laws came into force yesterday.

Yesterday rioting migrants burnt tyres and threw rocks at police as they ordered Hungary to open its borders, with a pregnant woman giving birth amid the carnage.

But the country’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, who has been savaged in some quarters for the crackdown, said it was “shocked” by the criticism.

He raged: “It is bizarre and shocking how some members of international political life and the international press interpreted yesterday’s events. All these people will be responsible if these events are repeated today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, who has blamed Germany for stoking the wave of migrants entering his country after Chancellor Angela Merkel rolled out the welcome mat for Syrian refugees, said Muslims would end up outnumbering Christians in Europe if the policy continued.

“I am speaking about God. I am speaking about culture and the everyday principles of life, such as sexual habits, freedom of expression, equality between men and woman and all those kind of values which I call Christianity.

“If we let the Muslims into the continent to compete with us, they will outnumber us. It’s mathematics. And we don’t like it.”

The European Union’s migration chief attacked Hungary for its stance and said building fences to keep migrants out would not work.

EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avromopoulos told a joint news conference with Hungary’s foreign and interior ministers that most of those arriving in Europe were Syrians “in need of our help”.

He said: “There is no wall you would not climb, no sea you would not cross if you are fleeing violence and terror.”

According to local media, one migrant went into labour as police and protestors clashed on the Hungarian border yesterday.

Separate reports said as many as 150 migrants were hurt in the melee, including children under the age of 10, although none were said to be serious.

Dramatic pictures showed sodden migrants fleeing water cannons deployed by Hungarian officials, with some appearing to fight back with sticks and poles.

The scene has been described by a man from Homs as similar to Syria–the very country many are fleeing.

A spokesman for the Hungarian government said: “There are people armed with pipes and sticks on the Serbian border pelting policemen and trying to get into Hungarian territory.

“An aggressive group of unidentified illegal migrants is trying to get into Hungary.”

The tense standoff comes a day after Hungary finished erecting a razor-wire fence along its southern border, leading to a backlog of migrants hoping to make their way to northern Europe.

Elsewhere, around 1,000 asylum seekers who had been camping out in the Austrian city of Salzburg have set off on foot for the German border after failing to board trains.

More than 2,000 asylum seekers gathered in Salzburg’s main train station on Wednesday, with many of them having slept overnight in an underground parking lot.

Germany has seen a decline in the number of new migrants arriving since it introduced border checks along the border with Austria, although many are still managing to sneak across the frontier.

Hungarian Prime Minister Vicktor Orban sent for hundreds of new policemen on Monday to help manage migrants flocking to its southern border with Serbia.

Police rounded up 5,809 people on the border on Sunday, bringing the number of illegal border crossings into the country to 191,702 this year.

Talking to 868 new police officers being inaugurated, Mr Orban said: “You will meet with people who have been deceived. You will be met with temper and aggression.”

He called on police to be humane but enforce the law in an “uncompromising” manner.

The situation is so desperate, Mr Orban said, that new policeman are being required to start work before finishing their studies to defend Hungarian sovereignty.

New rules imposed in Hungary mean authorities will receive and start processing asylum requests at the border and transport those who apply by bus to camps elsewhere in the country.

Migrants who refuse to cooperate will be kept at the border, and those who cross illegally, trying to avoid police, will face arrest and possible imprisonment.

An Iraqi man was the first person to be convicted of illegal entry into Hungary under draconian new laws introduced to curb the flow of migrants.

The judge ordered that the man, who is believed to have entered Hungary from neighbouring Serbia, be deported from the country and banned from returning for 12 months. He was also ordered to pay £45 court costs.

It comes as refugee children continue to be split from their parents and thrown into “institutions” as Hungary declares a state of emergency amid scenes reminiscent of the Second World War.

The Hungarian Government announced this morning two of its southern counties bordering Serbia are now officially in a state of emergency due to the sheer number of refugees entering the country.

The shock move gives the Government powers to mobilise the army, to help police with border controls, and gives them power to search homes without a warrant if they suspect migrants may be hiding there–pending approval from parliament which is expected next week.

A state of emergency means courts will now be forced to prioritise cases involving people caught entering Hungary illegally.

The Government announced late this morning all children under 18 without the correct documents will be placed in “children’s institutions” while their parents will be put in one of two holding areas called “transit zones”.

But children have already been split from their parents today after new laws were enforced at midnight on Tuesday which make crossing the border illegally a crime punishable by a prison sentence.

On Sunday Germany stopped all trains entering the country from neighbouring Austria in a bid to stem the flow of migrants and announced plans to temporarily reintroduce border controls as the country struggles to cope with the unprecedented wave of migrants.

The move breaches the European Union’s 20-year-old open-borders Schengen Agreement but Austrian officials revealed cracks in the EU’s solidarity on Monday when they said they were left with no choice but to follow suit.

In the wake of Germany re-introducing border controls, despite holding its doors wide open in the weeks before, the EU has yet again emphasised member states need to work together to protect the freedom of movement in Europe.

Martin Selmayr, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief-of-staff, tweeted: “Free movement (Schengen) will be in danger if EU Member States don’t work together swiftly and with solidarity on managing the refugee crisis.”

Speaking on Monday, Austrian Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner, said: “If Germany carries out border controls, Austria must put strengthened border controls in place.

“We are doing that now”

He and Chancellor Werner Faymann said the army would be deployed in a supporting role.

Mr Faymann added: “The focus of the support is on humanitarian help.

“But it is also, and I would like to emphasise this, on supporting border controls where it is necessary.”

By mid-morning on Monday Austrian police said 6,000 to 7,000 people had arrived since midnight by walking across the Hungary border, following 14,000 on Sunday.

Last week Austria suspended its rail link with Hungary because the national rail company said it was experiencing a “massive overburdening” of its network.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said this morning his Government had been forced to officially declare a state of emergency of face the nation being engulfed.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs, said: “It’s the fundamental interest of everyone to put an end to the illegal immigration process.

“It is possible migrants will accumulate on the Serbian side of the border.

“Every single country where the migrants are crossing should take its part in the joint European efforts, including Serbia.”

Gyorgy Bakondi, the Hungarian Prime Minister’s chief adviser on homeland security, added: “It is impossible for the migrants to decide where they want to go.”

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Hungary now also plans to extend the fence for “a reasonable distance” along its border with Romania.

Both Serbian and Romanian governments decried Hungary’s moves.

Romania’s Foreign Ministry said: “Raising a fence between two EU member states who are strategic partners is not a fair gesture from a political point of view.”

Serbia’s foreign minister declared it was “unacceptable” that migrants were being sent back from Hungary while more and more were arriving from Macedonia and Greece.

Socialist Party politician Ivica Dacic added:”(Serbia) wants to be part of the solution, not collateral damage. There will have to be talks in the coming days with Brussels and other countries.”

The new laws which came in at midnight have already been implemented, with police detaining nine Syrian and seven Afghan migrants in the early hours of Tuesday morning for lifting the razor wire fence to get into Hungary–which now consitutes a crime.

Hundreds continue to arrive but Serbian border guards say the crossing will no longer be open and Serbian officials have said they will not accept migrants back from Hungary.

Hungary is the latest in a growing line of European countries, including Poland and Austria, who have followed Germany’s lead by imposing internal controls on their borders and bringing in hundreds of policeman or soldiers to guard them.

A jaw-dropping 30,000 migrants were expected to have crossed Hungary’s borders on Monday alone as people traffickers hurried through their customers from Serbia, in the knowledge that one-by-one European nations are locking down against the migrant flood.

Poland’s Prime Minister, Ewa Kopacz, also said she is ready to impose controls at its borders with other EU members in case of any threats to border security.

She said she told European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that Poland would not agree to automatic quotas for accepting migrants and that Warsaw demands a strengthening of controls at EU’s external borders.

She added: “As soon as I receive any notification of any threat to border security, Poland will start controlling its borders

“We will accept only as many refugees as we can afford, not a single one more or less.”

The Schengen system, established in 1995, removes all border checks between 26 European states, but the rules still bar undocumented migrants from travelling from the country they have arrived in. Countries are allowed to reimpose border checks temporarily in emergencies.

Illegal travel across internal Schengen borders by migrants has become a major issue in recent weeks, especially after Berlin previously suspended normal EU asylum policy to announce it would take Syrian refugees who arrive elsewhere in the European Union.

Tens of thousands of people, many fleeing Syria’s civil war, have trekked from the Middle East and Africa this year up through the western Balkans towards Germany.

The extreme measures from Hungary come as hundreds of migrants spent the night in tents or out in the open on the Serbian side of the border with Hungary awaiting the opening of the crossing at Roszke, which was closed shortly after midnight.

But now people without the correct documentation are not being allowed through the migrants have started to protest, with several going on hunger strike as they hold up signs saying: “No food. No water. Until open border.”

As a police helicopter hovered above, migrants chanted “Open the border!” and shouted insults at Hungarian riot police.

Some even refused food and water in protest.

Hungary says it has rejected all 16 asylum requests made under the new border regime on its southern frontier with Serbia within just three hours.

Those expelled have been banned from entering the entire Schengen area for a year.

Another 32 claims are being protested, while 72 people are to be prosecuted for crossing the border illegally.

The border is being heavily guarded by riot police and Hungary is using 5,000 of its 6,000 soldiers to ensure illegal immigrants do not get through.

Barbed wire fences were put up yesterday and any gaps in the fences have been stopped-up with train containers covered in excessive amounts of barbed wire.