Croatia offers free passage to migrants, hundreds pour in

Migrants sleeping on a highway in front of a barrier at the border with Hungary near the village of Horgos, Serbia, on Sept 15, 2015.
Migrants sleeping on a highway in front of a barrier at the border with Hungary near the village of Horgos, Serbia, on Sept 15, 2015. ST PHOTO: REUTERS

TOVARNIK, Croatia (AFP) - Croatia will allow free passage of migrants across its territory, Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said Wednesday as hundreds have entered the EU member state from Serbia since Hungary sealed its borders.

“We are ready to accept and direct those people... to where they apparently wish to go,” Milanovic told lawmakers during a regular parliament session said, referring to Germany and Scandinavia.

He also said the migrants’ “religion and skin colour is completely irrelevant.”

While a first group of Middle Eastern refugees entered Croatia from Serbia, its neighbour to the east, early Wednesday, a total of 892 them have crossed into the country by 1700 GMT (1am Singapore time), according to the interior ministry.

The arrivals were continuing on Wednesday evening, local media reported.

So far, 360 migrants have been sent to the main reception centre in Jezevo, near Zagreb while preparations to set up other registration and accommodation facilities were under way, the ministry said.

Milanovic had strong words for Hungary’s decision to build a fence on the Serbian borders to keep migrants away, noting that the migrants only wished to pass through Hungary.

“I don’t approve of the (migrant) policy of Budapest, I consider it harmful and dangerous,” he said. “A fence in Europe in the 21st centry is not an answer but a threat.”


Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said Croatia was expecting around 4,000 migrants in the coming days, who would be accommodated at reception centres and other facilities in different towns.

He also said talks were being held with neighbouring Slovenia, also an EU member, over the crisis and the possibility of migrant corridors was being discussed.

But Slovenia’s Interior Minister Vesna Gjerkes Znidar denied any plans for such corridors.


Meanwhile, an 11-carriage train with a capacity for around 1,000 passengers that left Zagreb earlier Wednesday arrived in Vinkovci, near the Serbian border, to pick up migrants, state-run Hina news agency reported.

From Vinkovci, the train was to transport the migrants to a reception centre in the Croatian capital Zagreb, local media said.

Three buses carrying migrants accompanied by police have already arrived at the Jezevo reception centre near Zagreb, an AFP photographer said. Police were preventing journalists from approaching the facility.

Croatia’s border with Serbia lies some 100km west of Belgrade across flat terrain that is relatively easy to cross.

But Croatian media have warned of the dangers posed to migrants on the move from mines still littering the region as a result of the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

More than 550 sq km – nearly 1 per cent of Croatia’s territory – is thought to be riddled with unexploded ordnance left over from the conflict.

However Croatia’s de-mining agency stressed that areas where mines remain are clearly marked with warning signs.

Since the start of the crisis the Croatian government has urged solidarity with migrants, recalling its own role in accommodating hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people during the 1990s Balkans wars.