Amid chaotic scenes at its border with Serbia, Croatia said it could not cope with a flood of refugees seeking a new route into the EU after Hungary kept them out by erecting a fence and using tear gas and water cannon against them.
The EU’s newest member state said that it may try to stop taking in refugees and migrants, just as the 28-nation bloc announced its leaders would hold an emergency summit next Wednesday to try to resolve the migration crisis.
More than 7,300 people entered Croatia from Serbia in the 24 hours after Wednesday’s clashes between Hungarian riot police and stone-throwing refugees at its Balkan neighbour’s frontier.
At the eastern border town of Tovarnik, Croatian riot police struggled to keep crowds of men, women, and children back from rail tracks after long queues formed in baking heat for buses bound for reception centres elsewhere in Croatia.
Police were also deployed in an area of the capital Zagreb, taking up positions around a hotel housing hundreds of refugees, some of them on balconies shouting: “Freedom! Freedom!”
“Croatia will not be able to receive more people,” interior minister Ranko Ostojic told reporters in Tovarnik.
“When we said corridors are prepared [for migrants], we meant a corridor from Tovarnik to Zagreb,” he said, suggesting that Croatia would not simply allow refugees to head north to Slovenia, which is part of the EU’s Schengen zone of border-free travel.
The flood of refugees into Croatia has accelerated since Hungary sealed its southern, external EU frontier with Serbia on Tuesday to keep out the asylum seekers and refugees, many of whom hope eventually to reach Germany.
“I just want to go,” Syrian Kamal Al’hak said in Tovarnik, among people sitting or lying by the tracks trying to shade themselves from the sun. “I may return to Syria, but only in a few years. It’s too dangerous there now.”
The EU is split over how to cope with the influx of people mostly fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
European Council President Donald Tusk summoned EU leaders to an extraordinary summit next Wednesday to discuss migration and a proposed scheme to distribute 120,000 asylum seekers across the bloc.
The bloc’s interior ministers failed on Monday to agree on a mandatory quota systemand German chancellor Angela Merkel, leader of the EU’s most powerful member state, had called for an emergency summit.
EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avromopoulos rebuked Hungary for its actions, saying that most of those arriving in Europe were Syrians “in need of our help”.
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