Hungary to Seal Border With Croatia to Stem Flow of Refugees

Country's right-wing government already shut border with Serbia, erected steel fence along southern border to stop refugees that threaten Europe's prosperity, security and 'Christian values.'

Reuters

Hungary said on Friday it would close its southern border with Croatia from midnight (2200 GMT), pressing ahead with a unilateral crackdown on the flow of refugees to a Europe still divided over how to handle them. 

The move comes a month after Hungary's right-wing government shut its frontier with Serbia to hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of them refugees from war in Syria, streaming across the Balkan peninsula from conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. 

Hungary has erected a steel fence almost the length of its southern frontier, declaring it has to secure the borders of the European Union from mainly Muslim refugees who it says pose a threat to the prosperity, security and "Christian values" of Europe. 

The flow continued unabated on Friday over the border of EU neighbors Croatia and Hungary - between 5,000 and 8,000 per day in recent weeks, picked up by bus on the Hungarian side and driven north to Austria. The vast majority are trying to reach Germany. 

With winter approaching and temperatures dropping, they now face being diverted from Croatia into Slovenia, like Hungary a member of Europe's Schengen zone of passport-free travel. 

Croatia said it had agreed a plan with fellow former Yugoslav republic Slovenia to handle the flow of refugees when Hungary sealed the border. Slovenia denied this but confirmed that the neighbors were holding "operational talks". 

Slovenia, a country of 2 million people, said it would designate one or two entrance points for refugees and convene its national security council on Saturday. 

Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec indicated that Slovenia would not restrict entry providing Germany keeps its doors open. 

"If Germany closes its border or restricts border crossings, then Slovenia will act accordingly. But so far there are no indications or information that Germany is to change its policy," Erjavec told a news conference. 

The EU has agreed a deal - resisted by some of its members in eastern Europe - to share out 120,000 refugees, only a small proportion of the 700,000 or so people expected to reach Europe this year. 

Transit Zones

At a summit in Brussels, the bloc offered Turkey a possible three billion euros ($3.4 billion) in aid and the prospect of easier travel visas and "re-energized" talks on joining the bloc if it will help stem the flow of refugees across its territory. 

But Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said this fell short of Budapest's demands, which include formation of a common force to protect the borders of Greece, where many arrive by boat and dinghy across the Aegean from Turkey before heading north through Macedonia and Serbia. 

"Therefore, the national security cabinet decided that from midnight ... Hungary will fully enforce the Schengen rules on the border with Croatia," Szijjarto told reporters. 

He said Hungary had informed Croatia, Slovenia, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany, and that refugees would be able to submit asylum requests at two so-called 'transit zones' to be set up on the border with Croatia. 

A similar system in place on Hungary's border with Serbia has seen asylum requests rejected en masse, slowing the flow of refugees to a trickle and drawing fire from the United Nations refugee agency and human rights groups, who say refugees are being denied their right to protection under international conventions. 

Those who try to breach the fence are rounded up, put on trial and in almost all cases expelled. 

"Last station in Croatia!" a Croatian policewoman hollered to up to 2,000 refugees disembarking from a train at the town of Botovo on Croatia's border with Hungary, tired but determined. "You've got a 10-minute walk to another train in Hungary. This way!" 

"We are the last refugees," said Khodarsus, a 35-year-old teacher and father of two young children. "Winter is coming, so we will together arrive in Germany before that, Inshallah."