– Croatia says it can take no more migrants: “They will get food, water and medical help, and then they can move on. The European Union must know that Croatia will not become a migrant ‘hotspot’. We have hearts, but we also have heads.” -Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic:
After suddenly finding itself in the path of Europe’s biggest tide of migrants for decades, Croatia said on Friday it could no longer offer them refuge and would wave them on, challenging the EU to find a policy to receive them.
The migrants, mostly from poor or war-torn countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, have streamed into Croatia since Wednesday, after Hungary blocked what had been the main route with a metal fence and riot police at its border with Serbia.
“We cannot register and accommodate these people any longer,” Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic told a news conference in the capital Zagreb.
“They will get food, water and medical help, and then they can move on. The European Union must know that Croatia will not become a migrant ‘hotspot’. We have hearts, but we also have heads.”
The arrival of 17,000 since Wednesday morning, many crossing fields and some dodging police, has proved too much for one of the EU’s less prosperous states in a crisis that has divided the 28-nation bloc and left it scrambling to respond.
A record 473,887 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, the International Organization for Migration said, most of them from countries at war such as Syria who are seeking a better, safer life.
Hundreds of thousands have been trekking across the Balkan peninsula to reach the richer European countries to the north and west, especially Germany, which is preparing to accept 800,000 migrants this year.
But that has wrongfooted the European Union, which has come up with no common policy to deal with the biggest wave of migration to Western Europe since World War Two.
Hungary acted on its own to shut the main route this week by closing its border with Serbia, leaving thousands of migrants scattered across the Balkans searching for alternative paths.
Croatia, offering an overland route to Germany bypassing Hungary, found itself suddenly overwhelmed, and began sending migrants in trains and buses to Hungary.
Gyorgy Bakondi, head of Hungary’s national disaster unit, said more than 4,000 migrants had arrived from Croatia on Friday without any prior consultation, and up to 1,200 more could come before the end of the day.
With tempers clearly fraying, he said authorities had seized a Croatian train carrying migrants to the town of Magyarboly, disarmed the police who were escorting it and arrested the driver.
Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said the incident “raised the suspicion of a border violation”.
However, Croatian police spokeswoman Jelena Bikic said no one had been disarmed or arrested, the escort had been agreed in advance, and the police had returned to Croatia.
Hungary did, however, agree earlier in the day to register at least 1,000 migrants delivered from Croatia.