Thousands of refugees stranded in Balkans

The Balkans was struggling yesterday with a growing backlog of migrants after Hungary sealed its southern border and Slovenia tried to impose a limit, leaving thousands stranded on cold, wet borders where tempers frayed.

Having declared that it would accept only 2,500 per day, Slovenia said 5,000 had arrived from Croatia on Monday, with another 1,200 on their way by train.

“Croatia is ignoring our pleas, our plans,” Bostjan Sefic, state secretary at Slovenia’s interior ministry, told a news conference, saying the army would be called in to help if such a rate continued.

Attempts by Slovenia to ration the flow since Hungary sealed its border with Croatia at midnight on Friday has triggered a knock-on effect through the Balkans; Croatia began holding back new arrivals and Serbia said it may do the same on its border with Macedonia.

More than 10,000 were stranded in Serbia, said UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, with more on the way but nowhere to go.

“It’s like a big river of people, and if you stop the flow, you will have floods somewhere. That’s what’s happening now,” UNHCR spokesman Melita Sunjic said from the Serbia-Croatia border, where about 2,000 people were forced to wait in a muddy, rain-drenched no-man’s land.

Groups of migrants fought with each other in the morning, aid workers said, after a night spent under open skies lashed by wind and rain.

“Open the gate, open the gate!” they chanted, their passage barred by Croatian police who erected an improvised fence to control access. Police began letting through one busload an hour.

Slovenia has found itself dragged into the path of the greatest migration of people in Europe since the Second World War after Hungary sealed its border with Croatia to migrants on Friday.

It said Austria had limited its own intake, something Vienna denied. Most refugees want to reach Germany, which for the moment is letting them enter.

Sefic said Austria was experiencing “big problems” in handling the numbers and that Germany was accepting fewer.

What initially looked like a well co-ordinated response by fellow ex-Yugoslav republics Slovenia and Croatia quickly broke down into the kind of discord and disarray that has characterised Europe’s response to the hundreds of thousands reaching its shores by boat across the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, many of them Syrians fleeing war.

The EU has agreed a plan, resisted by Hungary and several other ex-Communist members of the bloc, to share out 120,000 refugees among its members, a small proportion of the 700,000 migrants the International Organisation for Migration projects will reach Europe’s borders from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia this year.

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