Saturday 3 December 2016

Hungary seizes migrant train from Croatia, disarms 40 Croatian police and arrests train driver

Published 18/09/2015 | 15:40

Hungarian soldiers and police stand guard as migrants get off a bus in Beremend near the Hungarian-Croatian border Credit: LASZLO LAUFER (Getty Images)
Hungarian soldiers and police stand guard as migrants get off a bus in Beremend near the Hungarian-Croatian border Credit: LASZLO LAUFER (Getty Images)

Hungarian authorities seized a train bringing migrants into the country from Croatia, disarmed 40 police on board and detained the driver after over 4,000 migrants arrived across their border, the head of the Hungarian disaster unit said.

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Gyorgy Bakondi told reporters the Croatian train that shipped the refugees and migrants to Magyarboly came without any prior notice, like the rest of the new arrivals coming on other trains and on buses.

Hungary registered and disarmed the 40 police who escorted the train, he said according to a video posted on M1 state television's website.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said the incident "raised the suspicion of the violation of the border", a separate video of HirTv showed.

Thousands of refugees wait to cross the border from Serbia to Tovarnik in Croatia Credit: MSF
Thousands of refugees wait to cross the border from Serbia to Tovarnik in Croatia Credit: MSF

Bakondi said another 1,000-1,200 more migrants could come before the end of the day.

Croatian police said none of its officers escorting a train with migrants across the border with Hungary had been disarmed or arrested.

Croatian Police stand beside a train carrying a 1,000 migrants bound for Hungary Credit: STRSTR/AFP/Getty Images
Croatian Police stand beside a train carrying a 1,000 migrants bound for Hungary Credit: STRSTR/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants pass luggage through windows as they board trains at the train station in Beli Manastir, near Hungarian border Credit: Jeff J Mitchell (Getty Images)

"There was no disarming or arrests. It is not true. There was an agreement about the escort between the police officers from the two sides in advance," police spokeswoman Jelena Bikic told Reuters.

Police said that 36 policemen returned to Croatia in the evening.

Young children smile a they look at a mobile phone as migrants board trains and buses in Croatia bound for Hungary Credit: Jeff J Mitchell (Getty Images))
Young children smile a they look at a mobile phone as migrants board trains and buses in Croatia bound for Hungary Credit: Jeff J Mitchell (Getty Images))
Migrants board a train in Croatia as the country transports 1,000 refugees across the Hungarian border Credit: Jeff J Mitchell (Getty Images)
Migrants climb through windows to board trains at the train station in Beli Manastir, near Hungarian border. Officials say they had no choice but to move the refugees to Hungary Credit: Jeff J Mitchell (Getty Images)

The row between the two countries and their respective handling of the migration crisis has deepened as Hungary’s foreign minister on Friday accused Croatia of pushing migrants to break the law by “illegally” breaching Hungarian borders.

“Rather than respecting the laws in place in the EU, they (Croatia), are encouraging the masses to break the law, because illegally crossing a border is breaking the law,” said Peter Szijjarto, speaking in Belgrade following talks with his Serbian counterpart.

Read More: Refugee electrocuted while jumping on Channel Tunnel freight train

“At the moment, the Croatian government is transporting migrants - in contravention of the laws in force in the European Union - towards the Hungarian border instead of giving them a place to stay and looking after their needs.”

On Friday, Croatia sent a special train packed with over a 1,000 refugees to the Hungarian village of Magyarboly.

Hungarian policemen direct migrants as they change buses after they crossed the border from Croatia Credit: Bernadett Szabo
Hungarian policemen direct migrants as they change buses after they crossed the border from Croatia Credit: Bernadett Szabo

And earlier in the day, its government mobilise dozens of buses to help hundreds of migrants reach its border with Hungary.

The operation got under way as 19 buses carried migrants across the border to the village of Beremend where they were put on Hungarian buses.

Read More: LÉ Niamh en route to fourth mission after rescuing 380 people adrift in Mediterranean

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic justified the decision to transport incoming refugees elsewhere by saying his country’s capacity to take in migrants was full.

Hungarian soldiers and police stand guard as migrants get off a bus in Beremend near the Hungarian-Croatian border Credit: LASZLO LAUFER (Getty Images)
Hungarian soldiers and police stand guard as migrants get off a bus in Beremend near the Hungarian-Croatian border Credit: LASZLO LAUFER (Getty Images)

"Hungary has closed off its border with barbed wire, that's not a solution, but these people remaining in Croatia is not a solution either,” he said.

Asked whether Croatia could send migrants to Slovenia, he said that: "Hungary is three times closer".

The Croatian government earlier closed all but one border crossing with Serbia after more than 14,000 migrants entered Croatia by that route following a move by Hungary to close its border.

Read More: The EU is in disarray and risks losing its fundamental principle: freedom of movement

A migrant wheels his child in a pushchair on a dirt road towards the border between Croatia and Serbia. Croatia has fenced off its own border with Serbia after more than 14,000 entered the country Credit: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC
A migrant wheels his child in a pushchair on a dirt road towards the border between Croatia and Serbia. Croatia has fenced off its own border with Serbia after more than 14,000 entered the country Credit: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC

Mr Milanovic said: "What else can we do? You are welcome in Croatia and you can pass through Croatia. But go on. Not because we don't like you but because this is not your final destination."

The Croatian move sparked anger from Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia.

Refugees queue in the Croatian village of Tovarnik to receive medical attention from MSF staff Credit: MSF
Refugees queue in the Croatian village of Tovarnik to receive medical attention from MSF staff Credit: MSF
MSF offering medical attention to the refugees arriving in Tovarnik Credit: MSF
MSF offering medical attention to the refugees arriving in Tovarnik Credit: MSF

Serbia fears the closure will block thousands of migrants inside the country, and social affairs minister Aleksandar Vulin said Serbia will take Croatia to international courts if the border crossings remain closed.

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said that although Croatia knew what it would be confronted with, its "supply system collapsed in a single day. Hungary has been holding its own for the ninth consecutive month".

Mr Kovacs said it was "totally unacceptable for a European country to not respect European rules just because it was unprepared", predicting that Croatia would be "set back by many years" in its efforts to join the EU's Schengen zone of passport-free travel.

Slovenia has been returning migrants to Croatia and has stopped all rail traffic between the two countries.

Read More: Europe in danger of failing on all fronts

Despite the move to close most border points, migrants and refugees are still pouring into Croatia.

Croatian authorities say the situation is worst in the eastern town of Beli Manastir, where thousands of refugees have converged and caught local authorities unprepared.

About 2,000 people also gathered in the border town of Tovarnik waiting for bus or train rides to refugee centres in the capital Zagreb and elsewhere.

The UN refugee agency warned of a "build-up" of migrants in Serbia.

Adrian Edwards of UNHCR said stricter border controls by Hungary and Croatia threaten a bottleneck in Serbia, "which is not a country with a robust asylum system".

Mr Edwards said: "You aren't going to solve these problems by closing borders."

He added that the crisis "is growing and being pushed from one country to another" as roughly 4,000 people pour into Greece each day and head north.

UNHCR says more than 442,440 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe this year, and 2,921 have died trying.

Read More: Hungary starts building a 'fast-solution fence' on border with Croatia

Babar Baloch, regional spokesman for central Europe for the UNHCR, called for a joint European response, saying countries cannot cope individually.

He said his organisation can handle the humanitarian response, but "what's missing is a collective EU action".

Mr Baloch said that "within three days we can put in place mechanism for refugee arrivals ... or empty our warehouses in Dubai, Copenhagen and other places".

He added: "We know how to do the job, but the responsibility, the moral and legal responsibility here, is on the countries in the European Union."

The growing chaos provoked mixed responses in western Europe as the European Union said the bloc will not leave Balkan countries to deal with the refugee crisis on their own, but Germany said it could be necessary to force eastern European nations to accept quotas for migrants.

European Union enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said all EU countries "have the task to protect the external borders".

He was addressing the parliament in Macedonian, which has seen tens of thousands of migrants cross from its southern border with Greece to its northern border with Serbia as they head north.

Macedonian police said more than 83,000 have moved through the small Balkan nation in the last three months.

"You are not a parking lot for refugees, you are also victims of the situation and we won't leave you alone," Mr Hahn said.

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