According to last night’s numbers by Frontex, more than 600,000 people from Ukraine have entered the EU, he said on Croatian Radio.
The influx is not big yet because the UNHCR and other agencies estimate that five million people could leave Ukraine, Božinović added.
This is a humanitarian situation that is becoming dramatic, and can be dealt with only if everyone stands together, he said.
Speaking of meetings of EU interior ministers and what they had to agree on, Božinović said it was necessary to resolve the status of refugees first as more and more would be coming. “This is an exodus for which an adequate response will have to be found.”
545 Ukrainian refugees in Croatia to date
Božinović said 545 Ukrainian refugees had arrived in Croatia and that 39 were in reception centres, while the rest were in private accommodation.
He said Croatia must prepare for a major influx as almost 100,000 had entered Hungary. It is difficult to expect Russia to stop at the moment as it is preparing a bigger escalation with attacks on Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol, he added.
Božinović said the entire Civil Protection system was getting ready, together with the health and education systems, so that the arrival of refugees passed with as little difficulty as possible.
Accommodation capacity will be expanded as needed, there are plans for using numerous state-owned facilities, and meetings are being held with the Croatian Tourist Board, hoteliers and the Tourism Ministry, he added.
Božinović went on to say that Croatia’s first relief convoy left for Ukraine at 3 am today and that such things should be organised well by the institutions in charge.
Europe has no alternative but to defend its values
Commenting on Russia’s threat that the countries donating military equipment to Ukraine, including Croatia, would be held accountable, he said not only NATO member states but neutral ones as well had decided to do that.
“Today we are seeing a change of the paradigm that has been in force in Europe since World War II and determination that everything that Europe has achieved must not be brought into question,” Božinović said, adding that in that time the EU has become the most developed part of the world alongside the US, an area where human rights are protected and technology and living standards progress.
“If someone threatens that, and this is a threat, they will face a very clear and harsh European response because Europe has no alternative but to defend its values.”
Speaking of fears that some might use the Ukraine crisis to destabilise Southeast Europe, Božinović said there were always some who were interested in destabilisation, those thinking their only trump card was force and armament, and that one could see in Ukraine that stability did not suit them.
As for Southeast Europe, he said the most important stakeholders had sent messages to every country in the region and that he was sure they would consider them well.
To be in Europe and not head for integration is not smart
Commenting on the stand of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, who has not imposed sanctions on Russia and is accusing Croatian politicians, Božinović said “it’s a rhetoric we are used to.”
“Now is the time for states which have doubts to make the best long-term decisions for the future of their citizens because to be in Europe and not head for integration is not the smartest thing to do”, he added.
Božinović also said he expected the political unity of the opposition and those in power on Ukraine to continue in Croatia.
The government’s position is clear and one of Prime Minister Andrej Plenković’s first visits was to Ukraine, which is just one sign of knowing the situation and Ukraine’s importance for Europe and our bilateral relations, he added.
Speaking on coronavirus, he said there were about 2,500 new cases today, 33% fewer than a week ago, a sign the steep decrease was continuing.
“If such trends continue, we will consider further relaxing restrictions”, said Božinović, who heads the national COVID-19 crisis management team.
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