19.10.2015, Trnovec, Slovenia/Croatia
Thousands of refugees stranded in the Balkans shivered in cold and mud on Monday as Austria, Slovenia and Croatia exchanged bitter recriminations over how to deal with the latest stage of Europe’s chronic migration crisis.
Countries along the so-called Western Balkans migration route engaged in a toxic blame game, accusing each other of passing the buck by allowing thousands of migrants to cross from one nation to another on their relentless march in search of a better life.
Slovenia reduced the number of refugees allowed to cross its border with Croatia, blaming Germany and Austria for cutting back on the numbers that they in turn were prepared to accept.
Austria denied the accusation.
Vesna Gyorkos Znidar, Slovenia’s interior minister, accused neighbouring Croatia of ignoring her government’s appeals and of seeking to dump “an unlimited number of immigrants” on Slovenia.
“It’s completely unacceptable,” she said.
Slovenia is the latest country to find itself dragged into the biggest migration of people in Europe since World War Two after Hungary sealed its border with Croatia, closing off a route that had been taken by tens of thousands of refugees over the summer.
The result was thousands of refugees, the majority from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, spending days and nights in the cold and wet, trying to keep warm by lighting fires as crying children wandered around barefoot in the rain or huddled under plastic sheets.
Around 1,500 people were trapped in a no-man’s-land on the border between Croatia and Slovenia, with Slovenia refusing to let them pass.
Croatia, for its part, argued that it was pointless to try to stop the refugees because they are determined to reach countries such as Germany and Sweden and have no intention of seeking asylum in the Balkans.
“The Republic of Croatia has asked these refugees to stay at our reception centres until their status is resolved, but they all refuse it,” said Matija Posavec, the governor of Medjimurje, Croatia’s northernmost county bordering Slovenia. “They just want to pass.”
Ranko Ostojic, Croatia’s interior minister, said his country would not allow itself to become a “migrant collection centre” for the EU and accused Greece for failing to stem the flow of tens of thousands into Europe from Turkey.
Slovenia erected metal fences at its border crossing of Sredisce ob Dravi, forcing refugees to wait for around 14 hours on the border, without food or shelter.
Stuck between the two countries and wanting only to continue their journeys to western Europe, refugees became increasingly angry and frustrated.
Some shouted “You kill us” and “We are dying here, open (the) gate,” at Croatian police, who would not let them back into Croatia.
Hanya Sheik, a 30 year-old woman from Damascus, was sitting under a sodden blanket with her three children – a two-year-old boy and girls aged six and 10 – along with her 60 year-old-mother, as the rain poured down.
“Why are they doing this?” she asked. “We have been here for 12 hours and have had no food, no water. My children are cold, my baby is sick. I would rather die in Syria with my family than here in this horrible place.”