Thursday 8 December 2016

Refugee crisis: Hungary to 'seal' Croatian border from midnight

David Kearns

Published 16/10/2015 | 18:09

Migrants make their way after crossing the border at Zakany. Hungary said on Friday it would close its southern border with Croatia from midnight Credit: Laszlo Balogh
Migrants make their way after crossing the border at Zakany. Hungary said on Friday it would close its southern border with Croatia from midnight Credit: Laszlo Balogh

Hungary will sealed its the border with Croatia from midnight in a bid to crackdown on the flow of migrants streaming across the Balkans as they flee conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

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The move comes less than a month after Hungary's government shut its frontier with Serbia, forcing hundreds of thousands of migrants, many of them refugees from war in Syria, to cross into Croatia as they try to reach Germany and other richer northern European countries.

On Friday morning the country’s foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said that "the Hungarian-Croatian green border will be closed from midnight," approximately 10pm GMT.

The closure of its southern border with Croatia comes hours after Hungary completed construction on a second of two razor-wire fences along its borders.

The decision follows hostile rhetoric towards refugees from Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

“Hungary must secure the borders of the European Union from mainly Muslim migrants who pose a threat to the prosperity, security and Christian values of Europe,” he said, speaking at a summit in Brussels where EU leaders are seeking to "re-energised" talk on how to deal with the flow of migrants across its territory.

Directed by Hungarian police officers, migrants make their way through the countryside after they crossed the Hungarian-Croatian border near the village of Zakany Credit: HANNA SONIA (Getty Images)
Directed by Hungarian police officers, migrants make their way through the countryside after they crossed the Hungarian-Croatian border near the village of Zakany Credit: HANNA SONIA (Getty Images)

Mr Orban said a €3 billion offer to Turkey to help aid in stopping refugees from crossing into Europe fell short of Budapest's demands, which include formation of a common force to protect the borders of Greece, where many arrive by boat and dinghy across the Aegean from Turkey before heading north through Macedonia and Serbia.

"Therefore, the national security cabinet decided that from midnight ... Hungary will fully enforce the Schengen rules on the border with Croatia," Foreign Minister Szijjarto told reporters.

Prisoners of the Hungarian 'Csillag' technical unit preparing a new part of the iron fence at the Croatian-Hungarian border Credit: CSABA SEGESVARI (Getty Images)
Prisoners of the Hungarian 'Csillag' technical unit preparing a new part of the iron fence at the Croatian-Hungarian border Credit: CSABA SEGESVARI (Getty Images)

He said Hungary had informed Croatia, Slovenia, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany, and that migrants would be able to submit asylum requests at two so-called 'transit zones' to be set up on the border with Croatia.

A similar system in place on Hungary's border with Serbia has seen asylum requests rejected en masse, slowing the flow of migrants to a trickle and drawing fire from the United Nations refugee agency and human rights groups, who say refugees are being denied their right to protection under international conventions.

Migrants walk to the border with Hungary after arriving by train at Botovo, Croatia Credit: Antonio Bronic (REUTERS)
Migrants walk to the border with Hungary after arriving by train at Botovo, Croatia Credit: Antonio Bronic (REUTERS)

Those who try to breach the fence are rounded up, put on trial and in almost all cases expelled.

With winter approaching and temperatures dropping, refugees now face being diverted from Croatia into Slovenia, like Hungary a member of Europe's Schengen zone of passport-free travel, but which has warned it will not tolerate a major influx.

Migrants walk to the border with Hungary after arriving by train in Croatia Credit: Antonio Bronic (REUTERS)
Migrants walk to the border with Hungary after arriving by train in Croatia Credit: Antonio Bronic (REUTERS)

In Zagreb, the Croatian government said it had already agreed a plan with Slovenia to handle the flow of migrants when Hungary sealed the border.

"Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic is in contact with his Slovenian counterpart Miro Cerar. The Croatian government already has a plan agreed with Slovenia. In the event of Hungary shutting the border, Croatia will start implementing that plan in coordination with Slovenia," the spokesman said.

"Last station in Croatia!" a Croatian policewoman hollered to up to 2,000 migrants disembarking from a train at the border town of Botovo, tired but determined. "You've got a 10-minute walk to another train in Hungary. This way!"

"We are the last refugees," said Khodarsus, a 35-year-old teacher and father of two young children.

"Winter is coming, so we will together arrive in Germany before that, Inshallah."

The EU has agreed a deal, resisted by some of its members in eastern Europe, to share out 120,000 refugees, only a small proportion of the some 700,000 people expected to hit Europe's shores this year.

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