European nations shut borders, block bridges, halt trains
Across southeast Europe, nations closed borders, blocked bridges, shut down trains, and built new razor-wire fences Friday in a rush to block tens of thousands seeking safety in Western Europe from crossing their territories.
The rapid-fire, often contradictory, border decisions came as each nation tried to shift the burden of handling the huge influx on to their neighbours, leaving migrants even more angry, confused, and desperate.
Croatia declared it was overwhelmed and began bussing migrants in convoys back to Hungary and closing border crossings with Serbia. Slovenia shut down rail service to Croatia and was sending migrants back there, while Hungary began building yet another new razor-wire border fence, this time on its Croatian border.
With more than 14,000 migrants arriving in just two days, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic declared that his nation of 4.2 million could no longer cope and asylum seekers could not stay.
"What else can we do?" Milanovic said at a news conference. "You are welcome in Croatia and you can pass through Croatia. But go on. Not because we don't like you, but because this is not your final destination."
Nineteen Croatian buses carried migrants across the border Friday to Beremend, Hungary, where they were put on Hungarian buses. Hungarian police said the people were being taken to registration points.
Huge numbers surged into Croatia since Wednesday after Hungary erected a barbed wire-fence on its border with Serbia and took other tough measures to stop migrants, including spraying crowds at the border with tear gas and water cannons and arresting hundreds trying to cross the border illegally.
Croatia represents a longer and more difficult route to the wealthier nations of the European Union, but those fleeing violence in their homelands such as Syrians and Iraqis had little choice.
Croatia closed seven of its eight border crossings with Serbia after chaotic scenes at the border on Thursday, where dozens of migrants were trampled in the rush to get a seat on a bus or train.
Milanovic, the Croatian leader, appealed Friday to the European Union to step in and help.
"We have a heart, but we also have a brain," he said.
Most migrants don't want to stay in Croatia. Just one woman with children has requested asylum in Croatia since the influx started, its foreign minister said.
The United Nations refugee agency warned Friday of a "build-up" of migrants in Serbia as its neighbours tightened their borders.
"The crisis is growing and being pushed from one country to another," said Adrian Edwards of UNHCR. "You aren't going to solve these problems by closing borders."
The human misery was evident in Croatian towns like Beli Manastir, near the border with Hungary. Migrants slept on streets, on train tracks, and at a local gas station. People scrambled to board local buses without knowing where they were going.
Hundreds of others were stranded Friday on a large Danube River bridge in the Serbian town of Bezdan after Croatian authorities closed all but one border crossing. A large truck lifted barriers on to the bridge.
The group, which included many women and children, stood in a no-man's-land in the middle of the tall bridge in the scorching heat with little water or food.
"We came here last night when they said 'Wait here for a while', and then they brought in police cars to block the bridge," said Ahmed Ali from the embattled Damascus neighbourhood of Yarmouk, holding a baby girl in his arms.
He said part of his family managed to cross the bridge and enter Croatia, while the rest were stranded on the bridge.
"We escaped from the war in Syria and we will die here now and this is the responsibility of Europe," he said.
Some from Croatia have already made their way north to Slovenia. Around 100 people were being held Friday at a makeshift processing centre in the border town of Berizce.
But Slovenia has also been returning others to Croatia and has stopped all rail traffic between the two countries. Slovenian police have intercepted dozens of migrants who tried to cross through the forests overnight from Croatia.
Hungary, meanwhile, started building another razor-wire fence overnight, this time along a stretch of its border with Croatia, to keep migrants from entering the country there, a quicker route to Western Europe than through Slovenia.