Migrant backlogs build in Balkans

A column of around 40 buses packed with migrants queued to enter Croatia from Serbia yesterday, their passage to western Europe slowed by a new diversion through Slovenia as weather conditions worsen.

Many had spent the night on the buses, wrapped in warm clothes and blankets against the autumn cold. They woke to dense fog.

“This part of the trip has lasted 20 hours, and we’ve been here for almost 12 hours,” said Khair, 40, a former sales manager from the Syrian capital, Damascus. “What can we do? We’re here and we have to wait.”

Hungary sealed its southern border with Croatia to migrants on Friday, forcing them west to fellow EU member Slovenia, a small former Yugoslav republic of two million people that also borders Austria. Some 3,000 entered Slovenia on Saturday, en route to Austria and Germany, the favoured destination of the vast majority, many of them Syrians fleeing war.

However, Slovenian authorities said they planned to limit the influx to about 2,500 per day in line with the country’s capacity to register and accommodate them. That threatened to create a backlog in Croatia and Serbia which in recent weeks have seen upwards of 5,000 crossing their borders every day.

Aid agencies are concerned about backlogs building in the Balkans with winter coming. Croatia and Slovenia have said they will not stop migrants from crossing, providing Austria and Germany also keep their doors open.

The EU has agreed a plan, resisted by Hungary and several other ex-Communist members of the bloc, to share out 120,000 refugees. That is only a small proportion of the 700,000 migrants expected to reach Europe’s shores by boat and dinghy from north Africa and Turkey this year, many fleeing war and poverty in the Mid East, Africa and Asia.

The influx has exposed deep divisions in Europe, with Hungary’s right-wing government taking a hard line against mainly Muslim refugees who it says pose a threat to the prosperity, security and “Christian values” of the continent.

The EU has proposed giving Turkey €3bn in aid and the prospect of easier travel visas and boosted talks on joining the bloc if it helps stem the flow.

Reuters

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