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Refugees press through police lines in Tovarnik, Croatia. (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images)

Refugees press through police lines in Tovarnik, Croatia. (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images)

For Refugees Seeking Freedom, Croatia Now Front-Line of 'Fortress Europe'

Violently turned away from the Hungarian boarder, thousands forged new path seeking refuge in Europe

Sarah Lazare

Violently turned away from the Hungarian border, thousands of people fleeing war and poverty entered Croatia on Thursday, in pursuit of new routes to Western European countries where they are seeking refuge.

In scenes that have become emblematic of what many are calling "fortress Europe," police sought to block refugees from crossing the border. In many cases, the crowds simply broke through law enforcement lines, according to media reports. In the town of Tovarnik, near the eastern border of Croatia, crowds pressed authorities to board buses to what the government is calling reception centers. 

"I just want to go," Kamal Al'hak, who hails from Syria, told Reuters as he sought shelter from the hot sun in Tovarnik. "I may return to Syria, but only in a few years. It's too dangerous there now."

In a suburb of Zagreb, hundreds of refugees in a hotel chanted "freedom, freedom!" from balconies and windows. They were reportedly surrounded by police.

While there are fewer reports of police attacks than in neighboring Hungary, Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojić had harsh words for the refugees, declaring that the country "will not be able to receive more people." Claiming that 6,500 people had entered in the last day, Ostojić said they would be granted access to reception centers but people not formally petitioning for asylum will be considered "illegal."

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Thursday directed his rebuke at the right-wing government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has met the waves of people fleeing war and poverty with police attacks, military deployments, a razor-wire border fence, and increased criminal penalties for unauthorized entry.

The commissioner "deplored the xenophobic and anti-Muslim views that appear to lie at the heart of current Hungarian Government policy,"  according to a statement from his office.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon struck a similar tone in comments at a press conference on Wednesday. "I was shocked to see how these refugees and migrants were treated," he said of Hungary adding: "it’s not acceptable."

But the humanitarian failure extends throughout Europe.

At a meeting in Brussels on Monday, European Union leaders did not reach the most minimal agreement for member countries to admit some of the hundreds of thousands of people seeking asylum. Meanwhile, countries across the continent—including Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and the Netherlands—are dramatically tightening their borders.

Wealthy nations beyond Europe—including the United States—are admitting a dismally low number of asylum seekers.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Union, on Thursday called for an emergency meeting of the 28-country bloc to address the crisis.


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