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Migrant crisis: Croatia closes border crossings with Serbia

Croatia has closed seven of its eight road border crossings with Serbia following a huge influx of migrants.

Officials said they had no choice after more than 13,000 people entered the country since Hungary fenced off its border with Serbia earlier this week.

Many have been taken by bus to reception centres but some say they plan to walk to neighbouring Slovenia.

Huge numbers of people heading north from the Mediterranean have created a political crisis in the European Union.

Croatian officials said roads leading to the border crossings had also been shut.

The crossing on the main road linking Belgrade and Zagreb – at Bajakovo – appeared to be the only one left open.

Local media reported severe congestion at the crossing, with a 6km queue of lorries back into Serbia.

In other developments:

  • A migrant thought to be Syrian is electrocuted at the entrance to the Eurotunnel in Calais
  • Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban says Hungary has started building a fence along part of its border with Croatia, after media reports that migrants were crossing it
  • German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says EU members reluctant to accept migrant quotas might have to be overruled with a majority vote at a summit on 23 September
Grey line

Analysis: Guy Delauney, BBC News, Zagreb

Freedom of movement is disappearing in south-east Europe. Slovenia has suspended rail connections with Croatia after around 150 refugees arrived by train. And Croatia has now joined Hungary in closing most of its road borders with Serbia.

The authorities in Zagreb say they had no choice. More than 11,000 refugees have entered the country since Wednesday – the day after Hungary criminalised unofficial border crossings.

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Croatia has attempted to take the newcomers to asylum centres – but the overwhelming numbers mean that many people have been left on the streets.

Some have told the BBC they plan to walk north to neighbouring Slovenia which is in the EU’s border-free Schengen Area.

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On Thursday, Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said his country was “absolutely full”.

He said his message to the migrants was: “Don’t come here any more. Stay in refugee centres in Serbia and Macedonia and Greece. This is not the road to Europe. Buses can’t take you there. It’s a lie.”

But a Reuters journalist at the scene reported that migrants were walking through fields to bypass one of the border crossings.

Media caption“Under pressure they let some women and children through, and then the unstoppable energy of chaos”, reports Fergal Keane in Tovarnik, Croatia

Scuffles broke out in two locations on the border with Serbia on Thursday after people were left waiting for hours for transport further north.

Crowds briefly broke through police lines at Tovarnik and Batina – two of the crossings now closed.

The BBC’s Lyse Doucet, at Tovarnik, said buses arrived just before midnight but not enough to transport everyone. Drivers said people were being taken to a reception centre.

But many appear to have slipped away to continue their journey north on foot.

One man, a Syrian from Homs called Hanny, told the BBC that people were walking without sleep.

“There’s no time. The rules change every day,” he said.

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It was Hungary’s decision to seal its border with Serbia that triggered the move by thousands of migrants, who had travelled to Serbia via Macedonia and Greece, to try to reach Western Europe via Croatia instead.

Images of Hungarian police trying to disperse people with tear gas and water cannon have been criticised by the United Nations’ top human rights official.

Migrants queue for coaches for registration centres in Tovarnik, Croatia - 18 September
Image captionMigrants in Tovarnik queue on Friday morning for coaches to take them to registration centres
Police officers look at migrants sitting on the windows of a train at the railway station, near the Slovenian-Croatian border in Dobova, Brezice, on September 17, 2015.
Image copyrightAFP
Image captionSlovenian police stopped a train carrying migrants near the border with Croatia, in Dobova
Migrants disembark a train as they arrive at the train station in Beli Manastir, near Hungarian border, northeast Croatia, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015
Image copyrightAP
Image captionThese migrants, arriving at a station in north-east Croatia, were offered accommodation in a former military base

Late on Thursday, Slovenian police said they had stopped a train carrying asylum seekers at Dobova on the border with Croatia.

Police tried to take the migrants back to Croatia, but the Slovenian Press Agency reported that the Croatian authorities had refused to take them.

Rail traffic between the two countries is now suspended until at least Friday evening, it added.

A migrant walks on road bridge over the Danube river between Serbia and Croatia, near Batina, Croatia, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015
Image copyrightAP
Image captionMigrants walked across the bridge over the Danube to reach Croatia

The crisis has challenged the Schengen agreement, with Germany, Austria and Slovakia all re-imposing checks on parts of their borders.

EU regulations dictate the refugees must register and claim asylum in the first member state they reach. But many migrants and refugees wish to continue on to Germany and Austria, and do not wish to seek asylum in smaller, less well-off EU nations such as Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia.

Map showing main migrant route north from Turkey to Germany



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