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Refugees board a train from Croatia to Hungary
Image: Getty Images/J. Mitchell

Hungary's migrant row with Croatia worsens

September 19, 2015

Croatia says it's forcing Hungary to accept more migrants while Budapest threatens to block Zagreb's Schengen accession. The two neighbors have come to blows over the fate of thousands of refugees at their borders.


Hungary accused Croatia on Saturday of dodging its responsibilities over the migrant crisis, after Zagreb said it had "forced" the Budapest government to take in thousands of refugees.

A senior adviser to Prime Minister Viktor Orban told national radio that it could block Croatia's accession to the European Union's passport-free Schengen zone if it fails to defend the bloc's external borders.

"If Croatia puts up its hands and says, no, I don't want to defend the borders, then Hungary can only say that it isn't ready to join Schengen when the moment comes to decide," Antal Rogan told Hungarian national radio.

This week, Croatia became the latest flashpoint in the migrant crisis, after thousands of people were blocked from crossing into Hungary, which over the past two months has become a major route into Europe.

Slovenian police stand guard at a border crossing
Slovenia has also seen an increase in migrant numbers, leading to scuffles with border guards.Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. Makovec

On Tuesday, the Budapest government declared a state of emergency along its southern border with Serbia, after a 3.5-meter (11.5-foot) fence was completed along the 173 kilometer (110 mile) frontier. As well as closing most border crossings, it also enacted tough penalties for any refugees illegally smuggling themselves through the frontier.

Balkan spillover

The blockade left thousands of waiting migrants with no choice but to head west towards Croatia. Many of them later crossed into Hungary anyway from the Croatian side. The government in Zagreb complained it was being swamped, having seen close to 21,000 new arrivals since Wednesday.

On Saturday, Croatia vowed to continue sending refugees to its northern neighbor, amid a deepening row over how to handle the influx, mostly Syrians escaping civil war.

Warning it was losing control, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said his country would give them food, water and medical attention, and send them on their way. Trains and buses have been put on standby to deliver the migrants to its borders with Hungary and Slovenia.

Refugees cross a river to enter Hungary
Many migrants have traveled through Turkey, headed for northern EU countries, including GermanyImage: Reuters/S. Zivulovic

Hungary said more than 8,000 migrants have crossed over from Croatia on Friday and even more were expected on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Budapest has called up 500 reservists to help deal with "crisis caused by the illegal migrants", according to a Defense Ministry statement. The voluntary force is expected to fill in for active-duty soldiers, thousands of whom have been deployed to the border in recent days.

Greek rescue

A five-year-old girl, who was retrieved unconscious by Greek coast guards from the sea off the island of Lesbos, died in hospital on Saturday.

A coast guard spokesman said its rescue vessel had picked up 10 other migrants from the same boat, while one managed to swim ashore. Fourteen others are still missing.

Survivors told authorities that 26 people were onboard when the boat sank after taking on water.

Bulgaria arrests

One hundred-and-thirty-seven foreigners, claiming to be from Syria, were detained by Bulgaria's state security agency on Friday.

The suspected migrants were picked up after checks in hostels and small hotels in central Sofia.

Earlier this month, another 125 migrants were held after illegally crossing into the country without submitting requests for asylum.

Although a member of the European Union, Bulgaria is not part of the border-free Schengen Area.

The government in Sofia has deployed additional border police, installed cameras and motion sensors, and is extending a security fence to cover 160 km (100 miles) of its border with Turkey to reduce the number of migrants arriving.

mm/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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