Assistance turns to violence for refugees as Croatia closes it’s borders

 

The beautiful, but troubled land of Croatia

The beautiful, but troubled land of Croatia

  • By Johnathan Claridge

After yesterday’s optimistic response to the appalling and internationally condemned violence from the Hungarian forces, Croatia today has disappointed millions in a sudden and violent U-turn, or has it?

Croatian president - Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović

Croatian president – Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović

The Croatian government has said that the country cannot take in any more migrants, as riot police clashed with refugees entering the relatively new EU member from Serbia.

Croatia’s interior minister, Ranko Ostojić, said Croatia would provide migrants and refugees with safe passage to reception centres around the capital, Zagreb, but that those not seeking asylum would be considered illegal immigrants. Essentially offering free and supported passage to those it considers genuine refugees fleeing for their safety, whilst coming down hard on those it sees as opportunists.

With their path north from Serbia into Europe blocked by the Hungarian military and police since Tuesday, many refugees have turned west to the Croatian frontier. Ostojić said 6,500 had entered in the last 24 hours, although other ministerial sources suggest the figure could be closer to twice that as some refugees are suspected to be entering from their southern neighbours Bosnia.

“Croatia will not be able to receive more people,” Ostojić told reporters in the town of Tovarnik on Croatia’s eastern border with Serbia, where thousands of people gathered on Thursday in and around the train station in the summer heat and blazing sunshine, waiting to board trains and buses.

More than 100 riot police were deployed to control the growing crowds and keep them back from railway tracks. Clashes broke out as some people broke through police lines.

“When we said corridors are prepared, we meant a corridor from Tovarnik to Zagreb,” Ostojić added, suggesting Croatia would not be allowing migrants and refugees simply to proceed north to Slovenia.

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, added his voice to criticism of Hungary on Thursday, describing its treatment of refugees as callous and including “clear violations of international law”.

High commissioner Zeid deplored the “xenophobic and anti-Muslim views that appear to lie at the heart of current Hungarian government policy,” a statement issued on his behalf said.

The Croatian government so far have been a lot more accommodating, however only in order to act as a filter for Europe, doing the dirty work no other nation wants to do, that of filtering out and registering the genuine refugees ready to be moved on towards Germany and Austria, and blocking the progression of the opportunist migrants not fleeing war. However the small Balkan nation appears to be stretched to it’s limits already which has lead to some violent clashes with forces well practiced and experienced in physicality.

What is the Balkans?

Map of the Balkans

Map of the Balkans

The Balkans lays between Europe and the Asian Middle-East, encompassing; Slovenia, Croatia, the Bosnian Territories, The Serbian Territories, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Montenegro and part of Turkey.
The region for many years was ravaged by the Yugoslav wars and is still under heavy UN and NATO occupation in large areas. Home to millions of Muslims, Christian Orthodox, Christian Catholic and Roma, the area has slowly been carved up into ethnic and religiously segregated blocks that make up the new Balkan states with many disputed autonomous provinces still seeking independence along religious or ethnic lines.
The Balkan states of Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia have in recent years been given what many see as pseudo EU membership in that they are not allowed the freedom of movement that the rest of the EU enjoys so much as part of the Schengen area, a freedom even open to non EU members such as Switzerland, Iceland and Norway. (It must be mentioned that the UK is a non Schengen member by choice, where as the Balkan states applied, but have yet to be accepted.) The only Balkan states to be full Schengen members of the EU are Greece and Slovenia.
But not all Balkan nations look westwards to Europe for their futures, many provinces with in the region look towards Russia and the Arab nations where they share a more common culture and religious background.

J.Claridge@theinternational.org.uk