17 октября 2015 18:34

Migrant flow turns to Slovenia as EU rift over crisis grows


Croatia on Saturday diverted the flow of thousands of migrants toward Slovenia after Hungary sealed its border to block the path of the streams of refugees desperate to reach northern Europe, AFP reports.

Croatia on Saturday diverted the flow of thousands of migrants toward Slovenia after Hungary sealed its border to block the path of the streams of refugees desperate to reach northern Europe, AFP reports.

Slovenia received the first buses from Croatia transporting the migrants as a much-hyped EU deal with Turkey to defuse the crisis -- which has seen some 600,000 mostly Syrian migrants enter the EU this year -- began to look shaky.

The continent's worst refugee crisis since 1945 has opened up rifts among the 28 EU member states and put unprecedented strain on the right to freedom of movement that is at the core of the bloc's values.

In the latest tragedy, 12 migrants drowned on Saturday when their boat sank off the Turkish coast as they were seeking to reach Greece, Turkey's Anatolia news agency reported.

The Turkish coastguard recovered the bodies from the wooden boat, which had sailed from northwest Turkey's seaside town of Ayvalik for the Greek island of Lesbos.

Hungarian police and soldiers sealed its border with Croatia barbed wire shortly before 1:00am (2300 GMT Friday), after the last 1,500 or so migrants to arrive by train on the Croatian side trudged silently through mud over the informal Zakany crossing, and AFP correspondent said.

The two official border posts of Beremend and Letenje remain open for those with valid papers.

Croatia -- which has repeatedly slammed Budapest's migrants' policy as "unacceptable" -- reacted by diverting the flow of migrants from Hungary toward Slovenia.

 Arduous route 

An AFP correspondent at the Petisovci border checkpoint in Slovenia said he had seen six buses cross into Slovenia. Three continued on to a registration centre, according to police, while the remaining passengers got off at Petisovci to be registered there.

Said, a 40-year-old lawyer from Syria travelling with his wife and two young children, said they had spent two arduous weeks travelling to the Slovenian border from Turkey and Greece.

The worse thing during their journey was spending four hours in "a very small inflatable boat with sixty people in it on the water, from Turkey to Greece," he told AFP.

In preparation for the migrants' arrival, a large white tent was erected at the crossing, where Slovenian authorities carry out identity checks, before taking the migrants to one of several refugee camps.

A majority of the 300 migrants at Petisovci were young men, the correspondent said, adding that there was no armed police presence and the atmosphere appeared calm and joyful. 

The migrants were picked up at the Opatovac refugee centre near Croatia's border with Serbia around 0000 GMT and driven to Slovenia, a Croatian police spokeswoman told AFP.

Hungary's right-wing government had already sealed its frontier with non-EU neighbour Serbia in mid-September -- until then the main entry point into the EU for migrants fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

This however merely diverted the flow of people to Croatia, which began to transport the migrants by trains and buses to Hungary.

But Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic warned Friday that if Slovenia and Germany closed their borders, Croatia would be forced to do the same."

"Slovenia will not close its border unless Germany closes its border, in that case Croatia will have to do the same... There is no alternative," she told HRT state-run television.

Most migrants are trying to get to Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse, which has said it expects up to one million asylum seekers this year.

 EU efforts mocked 

Hungary, a member of the EU and the passport-free Schengen zone, said it had decided to close the frontier with Croatia after its call for deploying EU forces to Greece's borders -- where the migrants arrive -- had failed to spark action at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday.

The summit also appeared to have faltered in its efforts to reach a much-touted deal with Turkey to defuse the migrant crisis.

Ankara said Brussels had offered too little money and that the plan was just a draft.

In the latest in a series of jabs at Europe over the crisis, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday ridiculed the bloc's efforts to help Syrian refugees.

"They announce they'll take in 30,000 to 40,000 refugees and then they are nominated for the Nobel for that. We are hosting two and a half million refugees but nobody cares," Erdogan said. 

The Turkish leader also challenged the EU to take Ankara's bid for EU membership more seriously.

"They keep saying 'We can't do without Turkey.' It's very clear but they are not being clear. Then why don't you let Turkey in the EU?" he asked.

Under the tentative agreement, Turkey had agreed to tackle people smugglers, cooperate with EU border authorities and put a brake on refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict from crossing by sea to Europe.

In exchange, European leaders agreed to speed up easing visa restrictions on Turkish citizens travelling to Europe and give Ankara more funds to tackle the problem.

While they did not specify how much they would give Ankara, they did say the three billion euros demanded by Turkey would be a problem.

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