Croatia has closed all but one of its border crossings with Serbia after straining to cope with more than 13,000 migrants who have entered the country after Hungary closed its border.
Huge numbers of people surged into Croatia after Hungary erected a barbed wire fence and took other tough measures to stop them from using it as a gateway into western Europe.
The developments came as Germany’s foreign minister said it might be necessary to force eastern European countries to accept quotas for migrants.
Croatia represents a longer and more difficult route into Europe, but those fleeing violence in their homelands appear to have little choice. Many of the migrants are Syrians and Iraqis fleeing war, who are seeking safety and prosperity in Germany and elsewhere in western Europe.
German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a newspaper interview that Germany, Austria, Sweden and Italy cannot bear all the burden of migrants coming to Europe, but some countries, mostly in eastern Europe, have opposed consensus on the distribution of migrants according to pre-determined quotas.
Mr Steinmeier told the Passauer Neue Presse daily: “If there is no other way we need to seriously consider using the instrument of a majority decision.”
Serbian officials, fearing the closure in Croatia would trap thousands of migrants inside the country, protested against Zagreb’s move. Social affairs minister Aleksandar Vulin said Serbia will take Croatia to international courts if the border crossings remain closed, arguing that Croatia should have been prepared for the influx.
“We will not pay the price of someone else’s incapability,” Mr Vulin said. “I am sorry to see that Croatian humanity and solidarity lasted just two days.”
Despite the border closures, many continued entering Croatia through cornfields. Women carrying children and people in wheelchairs were among the thousands rushing in the heat in hopes of finding refuge.
One of the more desperate situations was unfolding in the eastern Croatian town of Beli Manastir, near the border with Hungary. Migrants slept on streets, on train tracks and at a local petrol station.
People were scrambling to board local buses, without knowing where they were going.
Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban says his country has started building a razor wire fence along a stretch of its border with Croatia to keep migrants from entering the country there. The migrants would prefer the quicker route to Europe through Hungary, instead of taking the longer route through Slovenia.
Slovenia has been returning migrants to Croatia and has stopped all rail traffic between the two countries. Police have intercepted dozens of migrants who tried to cross through the forests from Croatia, and will be returned there.