Slovenian army to help control migrants at border, thousands held up in Balkans

 A mounted policeman leads a group of migrants near Dobova, Slovenia Oct 20, 2015.
A mounted policeman leads a group of migrants near Dobova, Slovenia Oct 20, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

LJUBLJANA/BERKASOVO, Serbia (Reuters, AFP) - Slovenia said on Tuesday (Oct 20) it would deploy the army to guard its border and appealed for help from the European Union as migrants streamed through the tiny country and many thousands more spent another cold night outside in the Balkans.

Attempts by Slovenia to ration the flow of migrants since Hungary sealed its border with Croatia at midnight on Friday have triggered a knock-on effect through the Balkans, with thousands held up at border crossings.

At least 12,100 migrants were currently in Serbia, the prime minister said on Tuesday, and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported at least 2,500 migrants stranded in no man's land between Croatia and Serbia.

By late morning on Tuesday, 5,000 migrants had entered Slovenia, after some 8,000 in total had crossed the border on Monday, the Slovenian Interior Ministry said.

As the smallest country on the Balkan migration route, Slovenia had "limited possibilities of border control and accommodating migrants", the government said in an earlier statement.

"The inflow of migrants over the last three days has exceeded all manageable possibilities," a government statement said, adding that parliament would be asked to approve legislation allowing soldiers to help border police in the crisis "under very specific circumstances".

Slovenia, which borders Croatia, Hungary, Austria and Italy, has a population of two million people.

Calling on the European Union to show greater solidarity, Ljubljana warned it was "delusional" to expect individual countries to tackle the bloc's greatest refugee crisis since 1945.

Some 643,000 migrants and refugees, mainly fleeing violence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have arrived in Europe so far this year, the UN refugee agency said Tuesday.

Of these, more than 500,000 crossed from Turkey to Greece by sea, a dangerous journey that has left more than 3,000 people dead or missing.

A senior Greek police official warned Tuesday the number of arrivals had "radically surged over the past 24 hours", as migrants rushed across the Mediterranean in fear of bad weather and more EU countries shutting their borders.

The ultimate goal for many is the EU's biggest economy Germany, which expects to take in around one million refugees this year, and where Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door policy has sparked an angry backlash.

Some 20,000 protesters massed in the German city of Dresden on Monday evening to mark the anniversary of the anti-migrant Pegida movement, two days after a man with a neo-Nazi background stabbed a pro-refugee politician in the neck, badly wounding her.

However, Merkel supporters also turned out in force, with counter-demonstrators almost matching the Pegida numbers.

SHIVERING IN THE COLD

At the Berkasovo border crossing between Serbia and Croatia, Jamal, a 50-year-old Syrian from the city of Tartus, spent the night at the border crossing with his daughter and wife.

"It was very cold, very, very cold, we are shivering, we received some food, but (there were) no tents for everybody, so we slept under a van, they gave us blankets," Jamal said.

Astrid Coyne-Jensen, a programme coordinator with the Danish People's Aid humanitarian organisation, said that its medical team treated around 150 people from late Monday until Tuesday morning.

"Mainly we had flu-like infections, sore throats, fevers, unlike in the summer when we were treating blisters and foot injuries. People are mainly seeking immediate help to relieve symptoms as they are in a hurry, they rarely stop for a prolonged intervention," she said.

In the morning, hundreds of people bypassed a border checkpoint and police cordon, and walked straight into Croatia along a path between an orchard and a vineyard.

Croatian authorities said more than 2,000 people were sheltered in the Opatovac camp near the border. From there buses were taking them to the nearest train station in Tovarnik or straight to the Slovenian border.

On Monday, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said many more migrants were on their way to Serbia from Macedonia.