Saturday, September 19, 2015 11:46 pm
(Reuters) – Hungary and Croatia traded threats on Saturday as thousands of exhausted migrants poured over their borders, deepening the disarray in Europe over how to handle the tide of humanity.
More than 20,000 migrants, many of them refugees from the Syrian war, have trekked into Croatia since Tuesday, when Hungary used a metal fence, tear gas and water cannon on its southern border with Serbia to bar their route into the European Union.
EU leaders, deeply divided, are due to meet on Wednesday in a fresh attempt to agree on how and where to distribute 160,000 refugees among their countries, but the noises from some of the newer members of the bloc were far from friendly.
Hungary, where the right-wing government of Viktor Orban has vowed to defend “Christian Europe” against the mainly Muslim migrants, accused Croatia of “violating Hungary’s sovereignty” by sending buses and trains packed with migrants over their joint border. It warned it might block Zagreb’s accession to Europe’s Schengen zone of passport-free travel.
“Croatia’s government has continuously lied in the face of Hungarians, Croatians, of the EU and its citizens,” Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told a news conference. “What kind of European solidarity is this?”
Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said that, unlike Hungary, he would not use “brute force” to keep people out, nor would his government make them stay against their will. The buses and trains would keep running to Hungary, he said.
“We forced them (to accept the migrants), by sending people up there. And we’ll keep doing it,” he told reporters.
DEATHS AT SEA
Croatia, a country of 4.4 million people forged as an independent state in a 1991-95 war, has suddenly found itself in the way of the largest migration of people westwards since World War Two. On Friday, Milanovic said the country could not cope, and would simply wave the migrants on.
Almost 500,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, increasingly across the water from Turkey to Greece and then up through the impoverished Balkans to the former Yugoslavia, of which Croatia and Slovenia are members of the EU.
Many are rushing to beat rougher seas; on Saturday, a girl believed to be five years old died and 13 other migrants were feared drowned when their boat sank off the island of Lesbos.
A second, exhausted group of around 40 people reached the inundated island in a tiny dinghy following a traumatic journey from Turkey, having paddled through the night with their hands across 10 km six miles) of sea when their engine failed.
“When we were on the sea … I didn’t have any hope … I said: I am dead right now, nobody can help me,” 18-year-old Mohammed Reza said after being helped ashore by foreign volunteers.