European nations shift to working together on migrant crisis

AP News
|
Posted: Sep 26, 2015 11:11 AM
European nations shift to working together on migrant crisis

STROSINCI, Croatia (AP) — Cooperation replaced confrontation Saturday among European nations as thousands of asylum-seekers streamed into Croatia in hopes of creating a new future in Western Europe.

Despite steps that should eventually ease the chaos, the sheer number of people flooding into Croatia strained the resources of one of the European Union's poorest nations. At least 10,000 arrived on Friday alone, and Croatian authorities struggled to keep up with the influx of those fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

At one tiny border crossing point, Croatian police said thousands were abandoned at a remote crossing after Serb authorities bused them to a point near the village of Strosinci and left.

Unclear where they were, the migrants tried to cross into Croatia, but got lost in the nearby cornfields. Croatian police found them, and called in buses to take the travelers to the nearby transit camp at Opatovac, but individual families were separated in the chaos.

A woman from Damascus who only gave her first name, Ranaa, said she lost her sons, 2 years old and 7 years old, after they boarded a bus to the Opatovac refugee camp without her. Later buses leaving her area were going directly to Hungary, and bypassing Opatovac.

Distraught and struggling in English to make herself understood, she begged to be taken from Strosinci to the transit camp, where relatives have seen the children.

Despite it all, a new cooperative mode began emerging among the nations in southeast Europe. Hungary announced it had removed spools of razor wire from a section of its border with Slovenia, a barrier that breached EU rules about unrestricted travel within much of its territory. The gesture followed the reopening of the main border point between Croatia and Serbia.

The concessions, coming two days after an EU summit on the migrant crisis, suggested the bloc had become alarmed at the lack of cooperation among its members and the increasingly ugly tone of their exchanges.

Hungary's closure of its border with Serbia on Sept. 15 triggered a tsunami of responses that sent migrants scurrying from one border to the next as they tried to reach Germany, Austria and other European countries. Since then, some 65,000 people on the move have entered Croatia.

Croatia first welcomed the migrants, thinking they would pass through to Slovenia, Austria and Germany. But Slovenia refused to let the people pass, leaving Croatia responsible for thousands who had no food, water or shelter. The government in Zagreb then accused Serbia of shunting the refugees into its territory and closed the cargo crossing in retaliation.

Leaders have taken steps to address the troubles. After Croatia opened the border with Serbia on Friday, its prime minister, Zoran Milanovic, appeared on Serbia's main television station to explain his actions. Likewise, Serbia's leader, Aleksandar Vucic agreed to an interview on Croatian television.

The exchanges were testy but still a positive shift to ease tensions between Croatia and Serbia, old rivals who fought a war amid the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban also changed his tone. He promised to consult with others before Hungary completes a razor-wire fence along its border with Croatia, a move that would insert more confusion for migrants.

Djordje Vlajic, acting editor-in-chief of Serbia's state Radio Belgrade 1, said the apparent softening of hard-line positions was the result of EU pressure on its smaller nations to resolve their differences — because the whole bloc itself must develop a unified response to the immense numbers of refugees still on their way.

"The only countries ruffling the sea were the countries that will not solve the problem in the end, the transit countries," Vlajic said. "So 'Teacher Europe' said enough, stop and wait until the serious players figure out how to solve this."

___

Associated Press Writer Danica Kirka in Zagreb, Croatia and Pablo Gorondi in Budapest contributed to this story.

___

This story has been corrected to show that 65,000 migrants, not 66,000, have entered Croatia since Hungary closed its border Sept. 15. It also corrects spelling of first name of radio correspondent to Djordje.