Migrant crisis: Hungary and Croatia trade accusations – CNN

Tovarnik, Croatia (CNN)Angry Hungarian officials have accused Croatia of helping refugees from the Middle East cross its borders illegally.

A train carrying 1,000 migrants and 40 Croatian police officers crossed into Hungary on Friday without permission, according to Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs.

Hungary called Croatia’s conduct “utterly contrary to European law,” a government statement said Saturday, and Hungary planned to send Zagreb a letter of protest.

The train was seized at a railway station 6 kilometers (nearly 4 miles) inside Hungary, and Croatian police officers on board the train were disarmed, he said. The officers were sent back to Croatia, and the train driver was taken into custody.

Hungary, which has sought to curb the migrant influx, will nevertheless take care of the migrants and provide them shelter, food and medical assistance, Kovacs said.

Hungary on Saturday accepted 18 buses of refugees from Croatia, the Croatian government said on Twitter. Slovenia accepted eight buses, it said.

    Kovacs told CNN that Hungarian officials are receiving the migrants “continuously through the day and will handle all of them.”

    Croatia’s anger

    Croatia condemned Hungary for its earlier response to the train, calling it “incomprehensible because none of the refugees wanted to stay in Hungary.”

    Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said he hadn’t discussed it first with his Hungarian counterpart.

    “No, we forced them” to accept the migrants, Milanovic said. When asked how, he said, “By sending the migrants there.”

    Earlier this week, Croatia had welcomed migrants. But as the trickle of people became a rush, things changed. On Thursday, Croatia closed seven of its border crossings with Serbia.

    More than 20,700 migrants have entered Croatia as of midday Saturday, the government said on Twitter. The U.N. refugee agency says Croatia is prepared to handle only 500 migrants a day.

    “Croatia will not be turned into Europe’s refugee center,” Milanovic said Saturday.

    “How convenient this must be for some in Northern Europe to say well, these migrants are now in Croatia — have the hundreds of thousands of people stay there. That’s impossible. Not only is it impossible because of our incapacity to house so many people, but also these people would rebel. The only way is for us to let them pass through in a civilized manner.”

    Hungary’s fence

    Meanwhile, Hungary finished building a barbed wire fence along part of its border with Croatia, Kovacs said Saturday.

    The fence stretches 41 kilometers (25 miles) and represents the first phase of construction, he said. A barrier along the remaining 330 kilometers (205 miles) of the border will be built in a second phase “if needed.”

    Refugees began streaming into Croatia on Wednesday after Hungary shut its border with Serbia and erected a razor-wire fence there to halt the flow.

    More than 200,000 migrants have arrived in Hungary this year, the Prime Minister’s office said Saturday, and 172,000 of them have submitted asylum applications.

    The country has called the situation untenable.

    With an official response that has included tear gas and water cannons, Hungary has built a reputation as one of the most heavy-handed — and some say cruel — European countries dealing with the influx of migrants and refugees.

    Arrivals in Austria

    It appeared Saturday that Hungarian authorities were moving migrants on into Austria in large numbers.

    Some 7,000 migrants crossed into Austria from Hungary since midnight Friday, Austrian Interior Ministry spokesman Alexander Marakovits told CNN on Saturday. The refugees came through the Austrian border crossings of Nickelsdorf on the northern end and Heiligenkreuz im Lafnitztal to the south, he said.

    At the train station in Gyur, Hungary, halfway between Budapest and Vienna, aid workers said as many as 3,000 migrants and refugees arrived at 7 a.m. Saturday on buses from the Croatian border. They boarded trains in the direction of Austria.

    European countries are seeing a constant stream of people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, where armed conflict has pushed millions from their homes. The migrants also come from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, where refugee camps are overflowing and the World Food Program has cut food rations for lack of funding.

    Many are ultimately looking for pathways to Germany.

    How you can help in the migrant crisis

    Germany’s new barriers

    Germany let in tens of thousands of people early on, but even if migrants make it there, they now could encounter closed borders. Lawmakers in Germany are working to make it easier to deport quickly those who don’t achieve refugee status, German public television broadcaster ARD has reported. They are also looking to cut the level of aid provided to refugees in Germany.

    Aid workers say Europe is facing its largest refugee and migrant crisis since World War II.

    The European Union is struggling to figure out how to distribute 160,000 migrants — and whether to set quotas for member countries to absorb them.

    Eastern European countries in particular have shown resistance to committing to a quota.

    Switzerland said Friday that it would take 1,500 refugees registered in Italy and Greece if the EU can decide on an overall relocation program.

    Are countries obligated to take in refugees?

    The dangerous Mediterranean

    People desperate to flee upheaval in Africa are also contributing to Europe’s immigration crisis. They head for the Mediterranean — often through Libya, perceived as an open door because its deteriorating security — and onto crowded, unseaworthy boats operated by smugglers promising passage to Europe.

    Many never make it across the dangerous waters.

    More than 2,800 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year, the International Organization for Migration reported this week. An overwhelming majority, more than 2,600, began their journey from Libya and neighboring Tunisia, the organization said.

    On Saturday alone, 4,343 migrants were rescued in 20 operations via ships from countries and aid groups in the Mediterranean, the Italian coast guard said.

    Doctors Without Borders said four boats rescued 776 people Saturday off Libya. The aid group is working with the charity Migrant Offshore Aid Station, which rescued 301 of the migrants, many with injuries they suffered in Libya.

    A record 432,761 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, the International Organization for Migration said this week.

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