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Desperate Refugees Turn to Croatia as Their New Entrance to Europe

4 minute read

ON THE SID-TOVARNIK BORDER CROSSING BETWEEN SERBIA AND CROATIA: Hundreds of refugees pile out of buses near the Serbian-Croatian border. Others arrive by taxi, if they can afford it. “Just 100 meters this way and then left. Then 2 kilometers,” barks a Serbian Red Cross worker at a crowd of confused refugees as they get off the bus.

Mahmoud Suleiman, from Aleppo, Syria, just crossed into Serbia from Macedonia last night. “My friend called me from the border with Hungary and said it was closed,” says Suleiman. He says a bus arrived this morning near the border where he entered Serbia and picked him and 50 others up. “They brought us directly to here.”

From here they walk down a dirt road through cornfields to reach the border with Croatia. On Wednesday buses and taxis began to ferry people from Serbia’s border with Hungary in the north and Macedonia in the south, to its borders with Croatia. Those coming from the south said they paid about $40 for a ride to the Croatian border, and may refugees reported that the police directed them to the buses.

Thousands have arrived here at the Sid-Tovarnik crossing on the Serbian-Croatian border. Aid workers say the flow of migrants continued through the night. According to Croatia’s state run news agency, a total of 8,900 people crossed into Croatia from Serbia over the last 24 hours, since the country said it would allow free passage through its territory.

It may not last. By Thursday afternoon, Croatia already said it could no longer take in any more refugees. “Croatia will not be able to receive more people,” Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic told reporters in the border town of Tovarnik.

Thousands of refugees stormed the train station in Tovarnik,. pushing their way past lines of police in an attempt to board trains to the Croatian capital of Zagreb. Eventually, buses were sent in to move people out.

Croatia, the European Union’s newest member, had seemed to promise unrestricted passage for refugees, before backtracking, transporting people to camps near Zagreb and insisting they must register before heading on.

It’s unclear whether registration in Croatia will prohibit these people from making asylum claims in other countries. The Dublin Regulations state that refugees must apply for asylum in the first E.U. country they enter, but in recent weeks Germany has been effectively ignoring those rules.

But though Croatia is part of the E.U., it is not a member of the Schengen border-free zone, which includes countries that allow free passage between their borders. Neighboring Slovenia is in Schengen, however, and it seems that many refugees are heading towards that country’s borders instead, in an effort to eventually reach more promising destinations like Germany.

That may not work—Slovenia is taking a Hungary-like approach, insisting asylum seekers must register, or they will be considered illegal infiltrators, though as of yet don’t have plans to physically block their entry. The Slovenian government says those that are deemed refugees will be allowed to stay, others will be sent back.

But refugees, most of who have their sights set on Germany or other western European states are unlikely to want to register in Croatia or Slovenia. “If we go to Slovenia do we have to stamp?” asks Wagdy Najm Abod, making the motion of putting his thumb on an ink pad. He’s traveling with wife and two small children. They are from the Iraqi province of Anbar where intense fighting continues between militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Iraqi national forces and allied groups. “We want to go to Finland.”

Near the border, the arrival of buses is almost constant. As the sun sets, a double-decker bus pulls up and more people take the dirt road into the corn fields. Croatia says it is expecting 20,000 more arrivals in the next two weeks, but those estimates are likely low considering the numbers arriving every day on the shores of Greece.

“None of these people want to stay in these countries,” said Dusan Aralica a protection officers with the UN refuge agency at the drop point near the border. “We just hope Croatia will keep the border open.”

These Photos Show the Massive Scale of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Greece Migrants
Syrian and Afghan refugees warm themselves and dry their clothes around a fire after arriving on a dinghy from the Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, early on Oct. 7, 2015. Muhammed Muheisen—AP
migrant refugee greece
A migrant who recently arrived across the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey, watching a ferry in the port of Mytilene, Lesbos island, Greece, on Oct. 5, 2015.Zoltan Balogh—EPA
refugees migrants Lesbos Greek islands
An Afghan wades to the shore after arriving in an overloaded rubber dinghy on the coast near Skala Sikaminias, Lesbos island, Greece, Oct. 1, 2015. Filip Singer—EPA
Syrian refugees Lesbos Greece
Syrian refugees are covered with life blankets upon arriving to the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey, on Sept. 28, 2015. Aris Messinis—AFP/Getty Images
migrants refugees Lesbos
Migrants and refugees arrive on Sykamia beach, west of the port of Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey, on Sept. 22, 2015. Iakovos Hatzistavrou—AFP/Getty Images
Croatia Migrants
Migrants and refugees board a train by climbing through the windows as they try to avoid a police barrier at the station in Tovarnik, Croatia, on Sept. 20, 2015. Manu Brabo—AP
Croatia Migrants
A Syrian refugee boy cries while he and his family try to board a train at the station in Tovarnik, Croatia, on Sept. 20, 2015.Manu Brabo—AP
migrants hungary serbia border clash
A migrant holds his child during a clash with Hungarian riot police at the Horgos border crossing in Serbia, on Sept. 16, 2015.Sergey Ponomarev—The New York Times/Redux
migrants serbia
Migrants sleep on a highway in front of a barrier at the border with Hungary near the village of Horgos, Serbia, on Sept. 16, 2015. Marko Djurica—Reuters
Hungary Serbia border
A wagon equipped with razor wire is placed at the border between Hungary and Serbia in Roszke, some 10 miles southeast from Budapest, Hungary, Sept. 14, 2015, to close the gap of the temporary border fence at the Horgos-Szeged railway line. Balazs Mohai—EPA
refugees migrants Lesbos
A refugee reacts from exhaustion while swimming towards the shore after a dinghy carrying Syrian and Afghan refugees before reaching the Greek island of Lesbos, on Sept. 13, 2015. Alkis Konstantinidis—Reuters
refugees migrants Hungary
Syrian people sleep inside a greenhouse at a makeshift camp for asylum seekers near Roszke, southern Hungary, on Sept. 13, 2015. Muhammed Muheisen—AP
Hungary Migrants refugees children
Syrian refugee Raed Alabdou, 24, holds his one-month old daughter Roa'a, while he and his wife hide in a field not to be seen by Hungarian policemen, after they crossed the Serbian-Hungarian border near Roszke, southern Hungary, on Sept. 11, 2015. Muhammed Muheisen—AP
refugees migrants macedonia
Migrants and refugees beg Macedonian police to allow passage to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia during a rainstorm, near the Greek village of Idomeni, on Sept. 10, 2015. Yannis Behrakis—Reuters
refugees migrants Morahalom Hungary
Migrants run over a motorway from a collection point that had been set up to transport people to camps in Morahalom, Hungary, on Sept. 9, 2015.Dan Kitwood—Getty Images
syrian refugee migrant hungary
A young Syrian man from Damascus tries to evade the Hungarian police by sneaking through a forest close to the Serbian border in Morahalom, Hungary, on Sept. 8, 2015. Dan Kitwood—Getty Images
refugees migrants Serbia
Migrants cross into Hungary as they walk over railroad tracks at the Serbian border with Hungary in Horgas, Serbia, on Sept. 7, 2015.Dan Kitwood— Getty Images
refugee migrant Lesbos
A refugee from Syria prays after arriving on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos aboard an inflatable dinghy across the Aegean Sea from Turkey, on Sept. 7, 2015. Angelos Tzortzinis—AFP/Getty Images
syrian refugees migrants greek coast guard
A migrant scrambles to climb back aboard a rubber dinghy full of his fellow Syrians as they try to cross from Turkey to the Greek islands on their way to claim asylum in the European Union, late on Sept. 6, 2015.Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
syrian refugees migrants greek coast guard
A Syrian migrant aboard a flimsy rubber motorboat hands his one-month-old baby to Greek coast guards, who have arrived to rescue the boat full of migrants from dangerous waters near the border between Greece and Turkey, early on Sept. 7, 2015.Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
Greece Migrants
A young Syrian boy is wrapped with a thermal blanket as he arrives with others at the coast on a dinghy after crossing from Turkey, at the island of Lesbos, Greece, on Sept. 7, 2015.Petros Giannakouris—AP
Greece Migrants
Refugees and migrants wait to cross the border from the northern Greek village of Idomeni to southern Macedonia, on Sept. 7, 2015. Giannis Papanikos—AP
Migrants walk along rail tracks as they arrive to a collection point in the village of Roszke, Hungary
Migrants walk along rail tracks as they arrive to a collection point in the village of Roszke, Hungary, on Sept. 6, 2015.Marko Djurica—Reuters
migrant refugees train macedonia
Migrant families ride a train from Gevgelija to the Serbian border in Macedonia, on Sept. 4, 2015.Dan Kitwood—Getty Images
Italy Migrants refugees
Migrants crowd the bridge of the Norwegian Siem Pilot ship sailing along the Mediterranean sea, on Sept. 2, 2015. Gregorio Borgia—AP
Aylan Kurdi boy drowned
A Turkish gendarme carries the body of Alan Kurdi, 3, who drowned along with his brother Galip, 5, and their mother, in a failed attempt to sail to the Greek island of Kos, in the coastal town of Bodrum, Turkey, on Sept. 2, 2015.Reuters
Migrant crisis
Dozens of refugee families, mostly from Syria, camped near the Keleti train station in Budapest, Hungary on Sept. 2, 2015.Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
Migrant crisis
A Syrian migrant bids farewell to the Hungarian volunteers who welcomed him upon his arrival in the European Union in Szeged, Hungary on Aug. 30, 2015.Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
refugees migrants Hungarian-Serbian border
A father of a migrants family is arrested by the local police near the village of Roszke on the Hungarian-Serbian border on Aug. 28, 2015.Attila Kisbender—AFP/Getty Images
Syrian migrants cross under a fence as they enter Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke
Syrian migrants cross under a fence as they enter Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke, on Aug. 27, 2015. Bernadett Szabo—Reuters
Hungary border fence migrants refugees
Hungarian soldiers install a wire fence at the border between Hungary and Serbia near Hercegszanto, 115 miles southeast from Budapest, on Aug. 25, 2015. Tamas Soki—EPA
syrian migrant refugee girl greece
A little girl from Syria looks out of a bus as the ferry she arrived in is reflected in the bus window at the port of Piraeus, Greece, on Aug. 25, 2015. Petros Giannakouris—AP
Macedonian police clash with refugees at blocked border
Children cry as migrants waiting on the Greek side of the border break through a cordon of Macedonian special police forces to cross into Macedonia, near the southern city of Gevgelija, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on Aug. 21, 2015.Georgi Licovski—EPA
Calais migrants
Gendarmerie attempt to prevent people from entering the Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles, Calais, France on July 30, 2015.Rob Stothard—Getty Images
Kos Migrants Greece
Life vests and a deflated dinghy are seen on a beach on the Greek island of Kos, following the arrival of Afghan immigrants, on May 30, 2015.Yannis Behrakis—Reuters

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