Chaos in Croatia as police struggle to deal with huge flow of refugees and migrants


TOVARNIK, Croatia — Croatia has closed seven out of its eight border crossings with Serbia after more than 10,000 migrants and refugees crossed into the country over the past two days.

The closure, which essentially blocks the main land route for migrants into Western Europe, followed a chaotic scene close to the Serbian border on Thursday, where thousands of people were prevented by police from leaving a train station in the small town of Tovarnik.

Riot police wouldn't let the crowds exit the station, leaving them at the mercy of the blazing summer heat.

The crowd eventually broke through the police lines, pouring out of the station in search of buses and taxis to take them further into Croatia on to Western Europe. But many were still waiting the next day, having slept outside overnight.

Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said on Thursday that his country was "absolutely full."

He said his message to migrants was: "Don't come here anymore. Stay in refugee centers in Serbia and Macedonia and Greece. This is not the road to Europe. Buses can't take you there. It's a lie."

The new wave of people arriving in Croatia was sparked by Hungary's closure of its border with Serbia. Thousands who had been trying to enter Hungary gave up and headed to Tovarnik.

For those who made it into the country, Slovenia is the next destination — but that trip too presents problems for those hoping to reach countries further afield. More than 150 migrants who arrived at the Slovenian border on a train were turned back by authorities there on Thursday night. 

The doors are closing fast all over Europe, as the continent scrambles to deal with the biggest wave of migration since World War II. Just this week, Austria announced that it will implement tighter controls and deploy 2,200 soldiers to its eastern frontier. Slovakia said extra officers would be sent to its border with Hungary and Austria, and Slovenia is now enforcing temporary border controls. On Sunday, after effectively announcing it would open its borders to refugees, Germany reinstated controls to stem the tide.

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The measures, announced at different times and apparently with little coordination, have forced refugees to adapt their routes, often at the last minute.

Many of those who were penned in at Tavornik had traveled from Serbia’s border with Hungary, where police assaulted protesters with tear gas and water cannons.

“They beat us. They do a lot to us,” said Majid, a Syrian from Damascus who had tried and failed to cross the Serbia-Hungary border before traveling to Tavornik.

“Now I think I prefer to go back to my country and die over there. It’s better, at least I die in my home.”

Most of the refugees passing through the Serbia-Croatia border are Syrians, fleeing a devastating war there that has left more than 200,000 dead and created more than 9 million refugees.

The European Union has voted for plans that would see a mandatory relocation of 120,000 refugees between member states, but not all are in agreement.

European interior ministers are set to meet on Tuesday to discuss the migrant crisis.