Croatia tells refugees, 'Don't come here anymore.' Where next?

Hungary has erected a fence along its Serbian border and police forces are blocking the Hungary-Croatia and Slovenia-Croatia borders.

Laszlo Balogh/Reuters
Migrants wait for buses behind a police barrier at the Croatia-Slovenia border crossing at Bregana, Croatia, Sept. 19, 2015.

Refugees fleeing from Syria's civil war have found hardship where they expected to find solace.

Thousands continue to pour into Greece, most en route to Germany or points north. Germany has agreed to take in 1,000,000 refugees, by far the most in the EU.

But increased measures in the Balkans are preventing refugees from successfully making it farther north.

After Hungary announced a significant tightening on border security, many refugees are finding themselves stranded, unable to use Hungary as a pass-through on their way to Germany. Hungary has erected a fence along its Serbian border and a police force is blocking the Croatian border.

Despite Hungary’s warnings, refugees have continued to show up at the Hungarian border, hoping for sympathy. Hungarian police have reportedly responded with force, employing tear gas and wielding batons.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has defended his country's policy, saying, "If someone claims to be a refugee, he will be asked if he filed an asylum request in Serbia. And if he did not file it, since Serbia is a safe country, it will be rejected."

Refugees are turning to Croatia instead, hoping to pass from Serbia through Croatia and then on to Slovenia. But this has become problematic as well.

In the past three days, over 20,000 refugees have entered Croatia and found themselves unable to go any further, between Hungary's border fence and Slovenian police forcefully turning back those that try to cross that border.

The situation is so dire that some refugees are considering turning around, asking for directions back to Serbia.  

Croatia, too, closed seven of its official border crossings with Serbia on Friday, claiming the country of 4.5 million was "absolutely full."

"Don’t come here anymore," Croatia’s Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said. "Stay in refugee centers in Serbia and Macedonia and Greece. This is not the road to Europe. Buses can’t take you there. It’s a lie.”

Croatia will allow the refugees already in the country to stay, at least for now, and many refugees are continuing to enter Croatia through the cornfields, reported Al Jazeera.

And there do appear to be small loopholes along the Hungarian and Slovenian borders.

BBC’s Piers Scholfield reports that refugees coming from Croatia by bus are being ushered into Beremend, Hungary without problem. Nine buses were reportedly allowed to cross the border earlier today, even as officials accuse refugees of illegal border breaching between the two countries.

"Rather than respecting the laws in place in the EU, they (Croatia), are encouraging the masses to break the law, because illegally crossing a border is breaking the law," said Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto Friday. 

That would be true for ordinary migrants, but refugees are granted special freedoms under international law, as the Christian Science Monitor's Lonnie Shekhtman reported earlier this month: "International law outlines the rights of refugees, legally defined as people facing persecution or other mortal danger at home. These include a right not to be sent back to harm, the right not to be punished for illegally entering countries that have signed the treaty, the right to work, and the right to education."

Despite suspending rail traffic from Croatia, Slovenia processed over 1,000 refugees on Friday, while hundreds of refugees remained in limbo at the Slovenia-Croatia border.

Other refugees have attempted to reach safety through longer routes, such as flying to Russia and entering Norway, as reported by the Monitor earlier this month. But this is often too long and perilous for families with young children, who continue to try their luck through the Balkans.

Overwhelmed by the torrent of desperate people, the Balkans are blocking asylum seekers when in fact, allowing refugees to pass through to the more stable, better equipped northern European nations could be better for both the refugees and the Balkan states.

As the New York Times's Dan Bilefsky writes, "The migrants have become a sloshing tide of humanity, left to flow wherever the region’s conflicting and constantly changing border controls channel them."

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