(Photo credit www.neurope.eu)
Soon after welcoming thousands, Croatia shuts its border with Serbia.
There was more anguish and frustration for the thousands of exhausted people trying to reach the EU on September 18, as Croatia shut seven of its eight borders with Serbia, thereby closing a transit route to Western Europe, just two days after Hungary closed its border to Serbia.
Images of Croatian policemen helping young children were in stark contrast to those of tear gas on the Hungarian border, and some 11,000 people crossed into Croatia, with many having been transported to the Serbian border town of Sid. The arrivals have had a warm reception, and the Croatian population – with a fresh memory of war and displacement themselves – have been quick to respond. A Facebook page, Dear Refugees, Welcome to Croatia has been both a useful source of information for the new arrivals, as well as a rallying call for volunteer actions and donations.
It is clear that the Croatian government wants to help the onward journey, but its own resources are limited. Prime Minister Milanovic suggested a safe corridor through Croatia and Slovenia, something Slovenia rejected, and the situation is changing fast and threatening to spiral out of control. Slovenia, which unlike Croatia, is in the Schengen area, has temporarily suspended train services from Croatia, and should it close its border too, people will be trapped in Croatia. A possible northern route to Hungary is less than appetising given the new migrant laws recently passed, and that too will soon close, as Hungary erects fences on its Romanian and Croatian borders as well.
So far more than 11,000 people have entered Croatia since the Hungarian border closed, a number which is unsustainable for the small EU country, without assistance from outside. The crossing on the main road linking Belgrade and Zagreb – at Bajakovo – seems to be the only crossing between Croatia and Serbia which is still open, and roads leading to the border crossings are also shut.
Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said he was doing “all that was necessary “in the best interest, of Croatia first and foremost, of humanity and respect for European rules,” but warned that Croatian capacities were limited.
“We have a duty to register the people who enter Croatia as long as we can, depending on new arrivals. We are a transit country and will certainly treat them better than some other states.”
Sheer numbers have forced a rethink of policy, and Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said yesterday that Croatia was “absolutely full”, according to HINA.
He said his message to the migrants was: “Don’t come here any more. Stay in refugee centres in Serbia and Macedonia and Greece. This is not the road to Europe. Buses can’t take you there. It’s a lie.”
President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has asked in her capacity as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces to put the army on a higher level of alert so that it could protect the country’s borders from illegal migrants if necessary, reports HINA, citing a source close to the Office of the President.
“I have to analyse all information and I repeat that I am dissatisfied with what has been going on so far. I fear that the situation is getting out of control to some extent because it is not good when people cross your border illegally,” she said. This move was sharply criticised by the Center for Peace Studies, which released this statement:
The Center for Peace Studies is shocked by the ignorance and insensitivity of the Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović according the current refugee crisis. At the time when Croatia faces major humanitarian challenges the President of Croatia is totally inappropriately burdening the armed forces of Croatia with possible tasks of supervisioning the state border, says the CMS in their statement.
“The president must understand that the refugees that are comming and passing trough Croatia are not an occupying army, they are people – and among them are a lot of children and other vulnerable groups – who are running away from the war. With such reckless and irresponsible attitude the President causes anxiety among the citizens of Croatia and pointlessly exhausts the important state resources.
This causes damage to the reputation of Croatia in the world and she is akeing the same mistake that Hungary did. But in the same time we welcome the intention that the army get’s involved in the humanitarian aspect of this crisis with giving logistical support to the police and civil society and providing humanitarian assistance to the refugees.
We call out to the citizens of Croatia that they do not fall for these inappropriate ideas from the President, and we call out to the President not create panic and that in this time of this big humanitarian crisis she behaves with dignity and with utmost responsibility towards every human life that is in need.” – says the CMS
EC spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said the EC was following the situation regarding the influx of migrants into Croatia, recalling that EUR 71 million was available to Croatia from the Asylum and Migration Fund for the 2014-2020 period so that it could cope with migration and security challenges.
And while the politicians argue and EU leaders fail to agree on a common policy, tens of thousands of people are stranded, exhausted, frustrated. A solution simply has to be found.