Balkans Face Refugee Buildup as Hungary Seals Croatia Border

Migrants in Hungary

Migrants walk to the border with Hungary after arriving from Croatia, as police seal the border.

Photographer: Arpad Kurucz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
  • Slovenia accepting 2,500 migrants from Croatia, near limit
  • Croatia says 5,000 halted at center, dozens in Serbia

Balkan countries struggled to contain the influx of refugees after Hungary extended a border closure on Saturday, stranding thousands in Croatia as the consequences of the action rippled across the region.

Slovenia accepted 2,500 migrants from Croatia during the weekend, near the maximum it can process, Bostjan Sefic, a state secretary at the country’s interior ministry, told reporters in Ljubljana Sunday. More than 5,000 refugees were waiting at a temporary reception center in Croatia, according to police data, while dozens more waited in neighboring Serbia to be allowed across the border, the Tanjug news service reported.

Hungary’s decision to seal its border with Croatia on Saturday has narrowed the route to Europe for thousands fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa, amid the continent’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has urged Europe’s leaders to tackle the crisis, on Sunday sought Turkey’s help to stem the influx during an official visit to Istanbul.

“We are going to address the situation on a day-to-day basis,” Helena Biocic, a spokeswoman for the Croatian police, said by phone on Sunday. About 2,300 migrants had arrived in Croatia from Serbia by early Sunday afternoon, half the usual volume, the nation’s police said on its website., without giving a reason for the decline.

Razor Wire

In a sign of disagreement over the handling of refugees, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has had a razor-wire fence erected on the Croatian border after closing the frontier with Serbia last month, expanding the measures that are among the European Union’s toughest. The steps, which include facilitating the rejection of asylum requests and making illegal border crossing a criminal offense, have drawn criticism from human rights groups and Germany’s Merkel. Orban says the EU should step up measures to defend its Christian heritage.

Hungarian officials called the closing of the border a success, even as neighboring countries struggled to cope with the tide of refugees.

“We’ve seen an uneventful past 24 hours on Hungary’s borders,” government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told reporters in Nagykanizsa, western Hungary on Sunday. The steps taken show it’s possible to tackle illegal immigration in an effective and successful way, he said Sunday, according to the state news service MTI.

Pressure from the refugee crisis mounted elsewhere on the continent. In France, the number of migrants in the seaside town of Calais, where thousands are stranded in their attempt to enter the U.K., has roughly doubled in the last three weeks, according to a local government representative.

Calais and three surrounding communities now host 5,500 to 6,000 migrants, compared with about 3,000 to 3,500 just weeks ago, a spokesman for the Pas de Calais prefecture said. While most of the migrants in Calais are from Sudan and Eritrea, more are arriving from Iran, Syria and Iraq, he said.

Migrants arriving from Tovarnik cross the border to Hungary before Hungarian police and soldiers closed the border with barbed wire .
Migrants arriving from Tovarnik cross the border to Hungary before Hungarian police and soldiers closed the border with barbed wire .
Photographer: STR/AFP via Getty Images

Most migrants in Calais are being housed in a makeshift camp covering about 20 hectares (49 acres) outside the town. The U.K. and France agreed in August to set up a joint command center to stop illegal migrants trying to enter the U.K. through the Channel Tunnel by boarding trucks and trains.

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