ZAKANY, Hungarian-Croatian border, Oct 16 (Reuters) – Hungary will seal off its border with Croatia from midnight (2200 GMT) on Friday to stem the flow of thousands of migrants arriving daily, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto announced after a meeting of the national security cabinet.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing government has pledged to protect Hungarian borders and the European Union’s external frontiers from the influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants who, fleeing war or poverty, have come via the Balkans, and most of whom want to go to Germany. Orban is a fierce opponent of immigration and vowed to protect Hungary, and what he called its Christian values.
Hungary has built a steel fence to shut down migrants’ route over its southern border with Croatia, similarly to the barrier erected on the Serbian border earlier.
After the border with Croatia is sealed, migrants will turn towards tiny Slovenia or could be stranded in Croatia, where the weather is getting colder and authorities are already struggling with the mass influx.
Around 5,000 to 8,000 migrants crossed the Croatian border each day in recent weeks and were shipped in an organised way by police to the Austrian border. This will all come to a halt now.
Szijjarto said the EU leaders’ meeting in Brussels failed to decide on a common force to protect Greece’s borders. It was clear that Hungary had to protect the external frontiers of the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone.
“Therefore, the national security cabinet decided that from midnight … Hungary will fully enforce the Schengen rules on the border with Croatia,” he told reporters.
He said Hungary had informed Croatia, Slovenia, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany about the decision to seal the border. He said migrants would be able to submit asylum requests at two transit zones to be set up on the border with Croatia, and crossing will only be possible via official border stations.
The number of migrants quickly came to a trickle on the Serbian border where Hungary had also created so-called transit zones where migrants can submit an asylum request.
Most such requests are rejected, because Hungary considers Serbia a safe country. It has also clamped down on illegal crossings of the border fence, punishing migrants with expulsion in court.
Early on Friday, the flow of migrants via the Croatian border was still unabated. About 1,500-2,000 people arrived at the Croatian side of the border crossing at Botovo before midday in cool and foggy weather.
Looking fatigued but determined, they quickly got off and aided by a police escort began a speedy walk to the Hungarian border village of Zakany.
“Last station in Croatia,” a policewoman screamed at those getting off, in English. “You got a 10-minute walk to another train in Hungary. This way!”
The footpath that leads to the border had been worn muddy as autumn rains soaked the ground.
Less than two hours after the train rolled into Botovo, the migrants had been escorted across to Hungary, loaded onto a waiting Hungarian train of about the same size as the Croatian one that had brought them, and set off toward Austria again.
“We are the last refugees,” said Khodarsus, a 35-year-old teacher and a father of a six year-old boy and a two year-old girl.
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