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In Croatia, Migrants Are Welcome Until They’re Not

Croatia has announced that its country is full, despite encouraging migrants to arrive just yesterday.

TOVARNIK, CROATIA - SEPTEMBER 17:  A woman and a young child look on as migrants force their way through police lines at Tovarnik station to board a train bound for Zagreb on September 17, 2015 in Tovarnik, Croatia. Migrants are now diverting to Croatia from Serbia after Hungary closed its border with Serbia, with the majority of them trying to reach Germany amid divisions within the European Union over how to manage the ongoing crisis. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
TOVARNIK, CROATIA - SEPTEMBER 17: A woman and a young child look on as migrants force their way through police lines at Tovarnik station to board a train bound for Zagreb on September 17, 2015 in Tovarnik, Croatia. Migrants are now diverting to Croatia from Serbia after Hungary closed its border with Serbia, with the majority of them trying to reach Germany amid divisions within the European Union over how to manage the ongoing crisis. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Just one day after Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said migrants stuck in Serbia would be welcome in Croatia, his interior minister is walking back on the offer. It comes on the heels of close to 9,000 people flooding into the newest EU member state since Wednesday morning.

“Croatia will not be able to receive any more people,” Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic told reporters in a Zagreb suburb on Thursday. Calling the country “completely full,” he added that “if you want to save your life, please go to reception centers in Serbia, or Macedonia or Greece.”

Ostojic’s announcement came as European Council President Donald Tusk called for an emergency summit that will be held next Wednesday to discuss the worsening migration crisis.

Migrants and asylum-seekers fled to Croatia on Tuesday and Wednesday after Hungarian authorities sealed the border between Hungary and Serbia. That blocked the easiest route to Germany, where many hope to apply for asylum.

The United Nations sharply criticized Hungary for its aggressive response to migrants who broke through border fences on Wednesday. The U.N.’s top human rights official said Hungary’s use of tear gas and water cannons and its decision to arrest refugees “amount to clear violations of international law.”

But as Croatia has grown increasingly alarmed at the number of people crossing in from Serbia, Zagreb also has upped police in border towns. Additionally, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic reportedly asked the army to prepare to defend Croatia from the “illegal migration.”

Many passing through Croatia would prefer to move onward to Slovenia and then Germany. But even Berlin, which has offered to accept the highest number of migrants across the European Union, seems to have overestimated its ability to efficiently accommodate everyone as hoped.

On Thursday, citing “personal reasons,” Manfred Schmidt, president of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, resigned under pressure from representatives of all 16 German federal states, which accused him of grossly underestimating the number of expected migrants and, in turn, failing to provide appropriate resources for their arrival. The German migration office reportedly has a backlog of more than 250,000 asylum applications, some filed as far back as a year ago, and it expects to receive 1 million more this year. 

At the beginning of this year, Germany’s migration office had 300 staff members. Today it has 600, and an estimated 400 additional staff members are expected to be hired to help handle the influx of applications.

Photo credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

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