Europe’s migrant crisis: Roundup, September 18

European Council President Donald Tusk has convened a special meeting of the European Council on September 23 to discuss the migrant crisis.

The meeting follows an earlier, failed attempt to secure agreement among EU interior ministers on the European Commission’s revised proposals for a refugee redistribution quota system.

The September 23 meeting begins at 6pm Brussels time.

* Slovenia stopped all passenger traffic on the main railway line from Croatia, after finding 150 refugees on a Zurich-bound train. Croatian officials put the army on alert as thousands of people entered the country, Deutsche Welle reports.

A group of 150 refugees arrived across the Croatian border late Thursday, Slovenian police officials said. It was the largest group to try to enter the country since the start of the refugee crisis, according to the police statistics.

“We will return them to Croatia in the shortest time possible,” Anton Stubljar, from Novo Mesto police administration, told reporters.

* Croatia has closed seven of its eight road border crossings with Serbia following a huge influx of migrants, the BBC said.

Officials said they had no choice after more than 11,000 people entered the country since Hungary fenced off its border with Serbia earlier this week.

* There were harrowing scenes on Thursday at Croatia’s border with Serbia as riot police tried to hold back thousands of refugees and migrants who were trying to find a new route to Western Europe, the Voice of America reports.

Croatia had pledged to allow migrants to transit the country, but they did not expect such numbers to arrive so soon.  By midafternoon, several thousand had amassed at a small gate at the border town of Tovarnik, demanding to be let through.

Police tried to hold back the crowds, allowing just a few dozen through at a time to be taken by bus to a reception center.  Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic appeared at the scene and said police would exercise restraint.

“We show that we are able, without big accidents and without force, without using police force, we are able to control the situation,” Ostojic said.

But the situation rapidly went out of control.

In the sweltering heat, the tension grew.  The migrants tried to surge forward.  Riot police pushed back.  Stuck in the middle of the crush were children, pregnant women, even babies . Many had no water or food.

Some children were allowed through, limp with dehydration and exhaustion, carried in the arms of their desperate parents.  One man collapsed unconscious.  Another was reported to have suffered a heart attack.

Some migrants tried to break through a nearby fence but were pushed back through by police.  Families were split up.  Fathers pleaded to be reunited with their children, screaming with tears in their eyes at riot officers.

Eventually the police lines broke, and the migrants sprinted across open ground toward buses parked on nearby farmland.

* The small Serbian village of Bezdan was the new stop Thursday for a steady stream of migrants who were unable to enter Hungary through Horgos, VOA said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Hungarian police had clashed with migrants gathered at the border there and used tear gas and batons to disperse crowds trying to break in.

Serbia arranged buses Thursday to transfer people from there to a village at the border with Croatia.

* The first 24  Syrian asylum seekers from Austria have arrived in Gabčíkovo village in Slovakia’s Trnava Region, where they will be temporarily accommodated in a local refugee camp, director of the Interior Ministry Office’s press department Ivan Netík told the TASR newswire on September 17, The Slovak Spectator reports.

“Originally, there should have been more of us, but quite a few people changed their minds at the last minute and refused to come to Slovakia,” one asylum seeker told TASR. “I hope that we won’t stay here for long, either, we want to get back to Austria.”

* Hundreds of mainly Syrian migrants who have spent another night out in the open near Turkey‘s Greek border in Edirne province after police halted their bid to reach the frontier have pledged to start a hunger strike and continue it until their demands are met, by refusing the food being handed out by a relief organization on Wednesday night, Turkey’s Today’s Zaman said.

The refugees also demonstrated near Turkey’s western border with Greece, demanding that authorities allow them to cross the border.

* Greece’s Foreign Ministry Thursday issued an official complaint to the Hungarian Embassy in Athens, rejecting criticism by Hungarian officials of Greece’s handling of a burgeoning migration crisis and accusing officials in Budapest of “brutal cynicism”, Greece’s ekathimerini said.

“We find it difficult to witness either the wave of statements from Hungarian officials against our country or, and mainly, what the UN secretary-general characterizes as the ‘unacceptable’ conduct of Hungary’s forces of order against the refugees, including infants, who are living through the drama and misery of war,” ministry spokesperson Konstantinos Koutras said in a statement.

* Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vuciv said that that the dramatic events at the Horgos border crossing between Serbia and Hungary “point to the urgent need of a comprehensive solution and, in particular, an appropriate response of the EU to what happened.”

Vucic said Hungarian police threw tear gas at refugees who were in the Serbian territory, and that they beat refugees and journalists from Serbia’s public broadcaster, adding he “hopes that will not happen again” and reiterating that Serbia was “doing its best and expects a comprehensive solution from the EU”, Serbian news website B92 reported.

* Through two and a half weeks of September, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) teams have recorded total arrivals to Europe by sea in 2015 at 473 887 men, women and children. At least 182 000 of those migrants have arrived from Syria—making Syrians just under 40 per cent of this year’s total. In 2014, Syrians comprised between 25 per cent and 33 per cent of those entering Europe by sea, IOM said on September 18.

(Photo: UNHCR/Z Gal)




The Sofia Globe staff

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