Croatia 'forcing' Hungary to take migrants

Media caption,
People keep on flowing to the Hungary-Croatia border, says Ben Brown

Croatia will "force" Hungary to accept migrants by continuing to send them to the border, its prime minister says.

Zoran Milanovic's statement was the latest in an increasingly bad-tempered exchange of views over how to handle the migrant influx.

Hungary has accused Croatia of breaking international law by not registering migrants - one minister reportedly calling Mr Milanovic "pathetic".

Croatia says more than 20,000 migrants have entered since Wednesday.

Some 8,000 passed into Hungary on Friday, the Hungarian authorities said. New busloads arrived at the Beremend border crossing on Saturday, with the migrants offloaded and transferred to Hungarian buses.

Media caption,
Timelapse footage shows queues of migrants at Tovarnik near Croatia's border with Serbia as they wait for buses

Hungary is then transporting the migrants to Austria. Austrian police said 6,700 had crossed since midnight, 4,200 at Heiligenkreuz, near the city of Graz, and the remainder at Nickelsdorf near Vienna.

Croatia's response has typified the EU confusion over how to handle the crisis - migrants were initially welcomed to travel through the country, but then borders were hastily closed to regulate the flow as the government said numbers had become untenable.

In Hungary, migrants have at times been met with tear gas and water cannon as they try to push their way north. In Slovenia police used pepper spray on one group.

Most of the migrants, many fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, want to go to Germany or the Scandinavian countries.

The EU is to hold emergency talks next week.

Read more:

In other developments:

  • A five-year-old girl died when the boat taking her from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos sank, the Greek coastguard said. At least 13 other migrants on board are missing
  • A series of multinational operations off Libya rescued nearly 5,000 people trying to reach Europe
Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Sealed borders and fences inhibiting the migrant flows through central Europe have created bottlenecks as far south as Turkey
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The numbers are building at the Slovenia-Croatia border

'People smuggling'

Croatia says some border crossings remain open but that it has been forced to close others because of the sheer volume of migrants.

It says the weight of numbers - particularly since Hungary sealed its border with Serbia - means its only option is to allow the migrants to pass through, and has called for a unified EU response.

"There has not been an agreement with Hungary," Mr Milanovic told reporters.

"We forced them, by sending people up there. And we'll keep doing it," he said in the north-eastern town of Beli Manastir, from where buses and trains packed with migrants were sent north to Hungary on Friday.

Mr Milanovic said the migrants "want to leave the country, so this is the only way, for us to let them pass through in a civilised way".

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Meanwhile, volunteer rescuers approach a broken-down dinghy trying to reach the Greek island of Lesbos from the Turkish coast

He also blamed Greece and Turkey for failing to prevent migrants crossing into Europe by sea.

Hungary again lashed out at Croatia on Saturday. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said: "Instead of honestly making provision for the immigrants, it sent them straight to Hungary. What kind of European solidarity is this?"

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs accused Croatia of "intentional participation in people smuggling".

Hungary said Croatia had broken international laws by not registering the migrants.

However, the BBC spoke to a number of migrants who had reached Austria via Hungary who said they had not been registered in Hungary either, simply driven in buses across the country and told to walk over a railway line into Austria.

Slovenia has accused Croatia of breaking the rules of both the EU and the Schengen free movement area.

EU meeting

Hungary has taken a tough line on the influx, and on Saturday called up army reservists to assist.

It enacted tough laws this week after erecting a razor-wire fence along its Serbian border, making it a criminal offence to cross it. It says it will impose the same conditions once the fence along its Croatian border is completed soon.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
More busloads arrived on Saturday at the Beremend crossing between Croatia and Hungary

Asylum seekers want to reach Hungary and Slovenia, which are in the Schengen zone, en route to more prosperous northern European countries - with Germany the favourite destination.

The EU has been strongly criticised for its failure to co-ordinate a response.

Interior ministers will hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday in another attempt to agree on relocating migrants with binding quotas for each state.

The next day, EU leaders will hold an extraordinary summit on migration.

Migrant crisis in Europe: Key dates

  • 13 July: Hungary starts building razor-wire fence on border with Serbia
  • 25 Aug: Germany says all Syrian refugees can apply for asylum there, regardless of which EU country they first entered
  • 2 Sept: Image of body of three-year-old Syrian Alan Kurdi, washed ashore in Turkey, moves public opinion worldwide
  • 12 Sept: Record 4,330 migrants cross into Hungary
  • 13 Sept: In a switch of policy, Germany introduces border controls with Austria - other EU nations later impose their own controls
  • 15 Sept: Hungary enforces tough laws on migrants crossing its border fence, prompting thousands to turn to Croatian route
  • 18 Sept: Croatia transports migrants over its border into Hungary, where Hungary rushes to build new fence

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

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