Thousands of Migrants Are in Limbo in Croatia As Neighboring EU Countries Clamp Down on Border Controls

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A group of migrants walk down a dirt road toward the border between Croatia and Serbia, near the western-Serbia town of Sid.Photo: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/Getty Images

Just a few days after Croatia said it was “ready to accept and direct” refugees, the country is overwhelmed by the flood of migrants, leaving more than 15,000 stranded and the Croatian government backpedaling on its earlier promise to receive and register all migrants and refugees. 

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A young boy is held by police after trying to jump the queue as migrants board trains and busses at the train station in Beli Manastir, near Hungarian border.Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The refugees and migrants arrived in Croatia by the hundreds, then thousands, as Hungary shut down its border with Serbia. Now Croatia says it can no longer handle the influx of refugees, claiming it lacks the capacity to register everyone who crosses its borders. The country will not become a "migrant hotspot," says Croatian prime minister Zoran Milanović, though the country would provide humanitarian aid and send the migrants onward. Milanović said to migrants, "You are welcome in Croatia, and you can pass through Croatia. But go on. Not because we don’t like you, but because this is not your final destination.” However, in a somewhat contradictory move, Croatia closed its border with Serbia last night — though, ultimately, it did not stop refugees from streaming through.

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A bus at the train station in Beli Manastir, near Hungarian border.Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Croatia’s plan to help migrants “pass through Croatia” entails directing people toward Hungary — which, again, has a well-documented desire to keep migrants out at all costs — and Slovenia, which has halted rail lines between the two countries and set up border checks. Hungary’s foreign minister fired back at the Croatian government, saying its actions are both illegal and “pathetic.” Hungary has closed its borders with Croatia and had already begun extending its razor-wire border fence another 25 miles along its boundary with Croatia, adding to the 109-mile-long barrier already built along Serbia’s edges. Hungarian officials also said they would be adding up to 1,800 troops and 400 police to the border.

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Migrants wait in a line to board busses at Tovarnik railway station following crossing from Serbia.Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

And yet Croatia sent more than 1,000 people to the Hungarian border in buses and trains Friday — and somehow officials let them pass through. Hungary is apparently directing them to Austria, which also tightened border controls this week and added troops to check documents of those entering the country.

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People move past a train as migrants remain at Tovarnik railway station.Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

More than 100 migrants and refugees managed to pass through to Slovenia, though unofficial counts push that number much higher. The Slovenian government has set up six reception centers to process these migrants, but both Slovenian and Croatian border officials are turning people away at the border. Many refugees are trying to evade authorities by crossing through forests and rivers on foot. 

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Migrants sleep next to a cross near Tovarnik railway station.Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

As the European Union leaders stall and bicker, the migrants are stranded, or shunted around — and the mixed messages from Europe keep complicating plans and straining resources. More than 2,000 migrants are stuck in the Croatian border town of Tovarnik, near Serbia, sleeping on station platforms or in the street. Many are trying to get to the capital, Zagreb, which is north and closer to the Slovenian border, to await the next step. Others are stuck in Beli Manastir, near the Hungarian border, where Croatia had the capacity to house 200 people in military barracks, reports the Times. More than 8,000 came to the town, also sleeping anywhere there’s space and rushing to get on any bus that’s leaving.