BEREMEND, Hungary (AFP) — Overwhelmed Croatia bussed hundreds of migrants to its border with Hungary Friday, ratcheting up tensions in Europe’s refugee crisis as police fired tear gas to drive back several hundred people trying to enter Slovenia.
As Budapest claimed more than 4,400 people had crossed from Croatia in 24 hours before it closed the final stretch of a new razorwire barrier along the frontier at midnight, Slovenia said it was considering “corridors” for refugees through its territory.
Croatia earlier claimed it had reached saturation point after more than 17,000 people arrived on its soil in the last two days, and began channelling the flow towards hardline Hungary, which has vowed to “defend its borders” from the influx.
The move sparked a furious diplomatic row between the neighbors as Budapest accused Zagreb of inciting refugees to break its draconian new laws — which include three-year jail terms for breaching its border fence — and also triggered accusations, later denied, that Hungary had arrested Croatian police escorting the migrants.
Tensions later flared at Harmica on the Slovenian border with Croatia as migrants began to mass after rail services north were suspended by Ljubljana.
Riot police used tear gas to stop several hundred migrants, some with children, that were pushing against a police cordon at a bridge on the border after a tense standoff of more than an hour.
“I just want to cross the border,” said a young Syrian student at Harmica wearing a black Iron Maiden T-shirt.
The clash happened shortly after Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said the small Alpine country might consider the creation of “corridors” for refugees wanting to reach northern Europe if they continue arriving in large numbers.
With no let-up in the flow of people desperate to find shelter in Europe from war and misery, and thousands stranded by border closures and increasing controls, new figures showed the European Union had received almost a quarter of a million asylum requests in the three months to June.
As the body of another child washed up on a Turkish beach, the International Organization for Migration also said nearly 474,000 people had so far this year braved perilous trips across the Mediterranean to reach Europe.
The four-year-old girl, who has yet to be identified, was found near the town of Cesme after a boat carrying 15 Syrians to the Greek island of Chios sank, the Anatolia news agency said.
Harrowing pictures of three-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi, who drowned as his family tried to reach the Greek island of Kos, caused global dismay and seemed to briefly galvanize a European response to the biggest refugee crisis the continent has faced since World War II.
But with eastern EU members fiercely resisting plans to take a share of the new arrivals, and Hungary this week sealing its southern border with Serbia, thousands of refugees have tried to open a new route to northern Europe through Croatia and Slovenia.
After two days of letting people in, Croatia on Friday announced it was unable to cope, closing seven of the eight crossings along its eastern border with Serbia and bussing some people to the Hungarian frontier.
Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic later said that Zagreb and Budapest had agreed to allow “vulnerable migrants” to cross into Hungary.
An AFP correspondent in the Hungarian border village of Beremend said that by late afternoon around 20 buses, each carrying around 60 migrants, had been allowed to cross the frontier.
Another thirty buses were waiting to cross in the evening.
“Norway, I want to go to Norway,” one woman, feeding her baby with a bottle, could be heard telling a police officer as she stepped into Hungary.
With fears growing in eastern Europe that it will be left responsible for the chaotic situation, a top EU official vowed not to leave the region in the lurch.
“You are not a parking lot for refugees, you are also victims of the situation and we won’t leave you,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn told the Macedonian parliament.
Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said the EU was also preparing a “substantial” aid package for Turkey to help it meet the cost of hosting around two million Syrian refugees currently there, although he added this was not about trying to “buy Turkey off for blocking the route to those who want to come to Europe”.
Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the UN refugee agency, said that chaos was filling the vacuum left by the “absence of a coherent and united response”, saying two key EU meetings next week were “crucially important”.
“These occasions may be the last opportunity for a positive, united and coherent European response to this crisis. Time is running out,” he warned.
But for one Syrian family, there was good news as Pope Francis put them up in a Vatican apartment, aides revealed on Friday.
The Christian family is the first of two that the Catholic leader has promised to help after he called on every parish in Europe to put up at least one family.