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First refugees head for Croatia

September 16, 2015

Croatia has become Europe's latest transit country for migrants. Early Wednesday, at least 100 people walked through fields across Serbia's border, rerouted by bus after Hungary locked down its own frontier.

Image: Reuters/A. Bronic

Dozens of migrants walked crossed into Croatia from Serbia Wednesday. The newest EU member state is not yet a part of the nominally border-free Schengen Zone.

Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said that Croatia had prepared an "emergency plan in the case of an influx of thousands of refugees," but did not give details. "The government will quickly activate that emergency plan if need be," Ostojic added.

Until recently, buses ran to Serbia's border with Schengen state Hungary, but on Tuesday the right-wing government in Budapest completed a frontier fence and imposed rules that briskly rejected asylum applications. Only 367 migrants crossed illegally into Hungary on Tuesday, the first day of tough laws to punish unauthorized entry into the country, and police reported that they had arrested all of them.

Karte Serbien Kroatien Sid Tovarnik Grenzübergang Englisch

Hungary plans to prosecute 316 for damaging the barbed-wire fence set down on the border and the other 51 for illegally entering the country, police said. Under Hungary's new laws, crossing the border illegally can result in a prison term of up to three years. This can rise to five years if people damage the razor wire or a more substantial 4-meter (13-foot) barrier which still under construction along the 175-kilometer (110-mile) border with Serbia.

On Tuesday, a government minister said Hungary also planned to erect another anti-migrant fence along part of its border with Romania. The Council of Europe, the European human rights watchdog, has expressed concern.

'Maintain public order'

With Hungary sealed off for the first time since the Iron Curtain, many migrants now hope to enter EU member Croatia and then Schengen state Slovenia, moving beyond to Austria and Germany. On Wednesday, Reuters reported that Croatian police had rounded up the migrants and taken them away for registration.

Plans to cross into Austria could be complicated by apparently temporary measures that went into effect at midnight to "maintain public order" as the Austrian Press Agency reported that 2,500-3,000 people continue to leave the country for Germany daily.

However, Deputy Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner said there was still a "backlog" following Germany's reimposing of its borders, effectively suspending the 1995 Schengen Agreement that provided for free travel between EU members and associated countries.

More than 200,000 migrants have transited through Hungary so far this year, with most of them seeking to get to Germany and passing through Austria en route.

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mkg/jil (Reuters, AFP)