Croatia dreads worst case scenario – even larger wave of migrants is imminent

Foto: STA

Europe is openly preparing for a new wave of migrants that could have immense political consequences. According to data gathered by Frontex, the EU border agency, almost 30,000 people arrived in the EU illegally in the first four months of this year. 15,000 of them had set out from Turkey to Greece along the eastern Mediterranean or Balkan route, where the number of migrants doubled compared to last year. Twice as many people as last year (around 5,000 migrants) had also travelled from Africa to Spain. The remaining 10,000 migrants had travelled from Libya and Tunisia to southern Italy.

In the first three months of this year, the Croatian police intercepted 1,371 migrants that were crossing the border illegally, which is 72 percent more than in the same period last year. According to the Croatian ministry of the interior, most of them were Afghans, Pakistani, Turks and Kosovars, and there were also many Algerians, Libyans and Moroccans.

Migrant pressure is the greatest in the Karlovac County, the Osijek-Baranja County, the Vukovar-Srijem County, the Lika-Senj County and the Sisak-Moslavina County. The Croatian interior minister, Davor Božinović, has said that if countries on the migration route to western Europe close their borders to migrants, Croatia will not become a “hot spot” like Greece, where there are currently 50,000 migrants. Croatia has clearly decided to prevent illegal migration, and not only at the border with Serbia, but also at the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, since the route of migrants does not only lead through Macedonia and Serbia, but also through Albania, Montenegro and all the way to Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has been entered by around 5,600 migrants since the beginning of the year according to the authorities.

70 percent of migrants already left Bosnia and Herzegovina
The minister for security of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dragan Mektić, said that as much as 70 percent of the newcomers had already left the country, which means that around 4,000 migrants had entered Croatia illegally. It can be assumed that most of them managed to get to Slovenia given that border controls in the Schengen area are less tight. Each day, the Croatian police stops migrants at the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, and those who manage to circumvent the control at the border, arrive in Slovenia.

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz is the most vocal
The re-emergence of migration along the Balkan route, which also leads through Croatia and Slovenia and which brought about 2 million migrants to Europe in 2015 and 2016, has provoked a wave of strong reactions from EU leaders, who have clearly stated that they do not want any new arrivals. The loudest country is Austria, whose chancellor Sebastian Kurz a few months ago stated that he would use his presidency in the European Union in the second half of the year to shift the focus from distributing migrants to preventing their arrival in the EU. In two weeks, when Austria takes the helm of the EU, the migrant issue will thus become a hot political topic.

It seems the key political figure of the EU, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is aware of this. She has said that illegal migration is a key issue and that the future of the EU depends on it. “If we fail to provide a common answer to questions of illegal migration, the foundations of the European Union will be called into question.” Merkel thus acknowledged that the planned mechanism for the distribution of migrants across EU member states based on quotas had not produced the desired results. Some countries, e.g. Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic, have been opposed to the hospitality towards migrants since the beginning of the plan in 2016.

77 percent of migrants left Croatia illegally
Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are not countries where migrants will be seen in the future, writes the Croatian Jutranji list. This is evidenced by official data, which show that of the 2,000 migrants that applied for international protection in Croatia last year, as much as 77 percent voluntarily left the country. Illegally, of course. Last year, Croatia approved 213 applications for asylum. Brussels expects Croatia to protect the external border of the European Union, thereby proving that it deserved entry into the Schengen area.

While Angela Merkel believes that the main mechanism in the fight against illegal migration should be an enhanced support for the countries of origin, Kurz proposes that migrants on the Mediterranean should be sent back to Africa instead of being driven to Europe. Recently, Kurz has announced the closing of seven mosques in order to combat political terrorism. Austrian interior minister Herbert Kickl has announced the activation of a police-military plan to stop migrants, which includes the deployment of troops at the external borders of six member states. He said that if this happens, Austria will close its borders. The Italian minister of the interior, Matteo Salvini, has told hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants from Africa that they should start packing. He predicts a mass deportation the like of which has not been seen on this continent since the end of the second world war.

Šefic calls on the European commission to act
According to Croatian media, dissatisfaction with the situation on the Balkan route has also been expressed by Slovenia. Last week, Boštjan Šefic, secretary at the Slovenian Ministry of the Interior, called on the European commission to act, since there are currently between 45,000 and 60,000 migrants in the Balkans wishing to come to Slovenia and thus into the Schengen area. A special problem is that recently Serbia abolished visas for citizens of Iran and some African countries, who are arriving in Belgrade legally in growing numbers with the intention of never returning home.

The Greek political analyst Leonidas Hadžiprodrimidis said for Globus that the migrant crisis is one of the greatest European problems and that Greece has not been ready for it. “The only silver lining is that we have a pleasant climate so that people can live under the open sky, on streets and in parks on Greek islands, in Athens – recently many of them are in Solun, where they arrive with the intention of moving onwards. The situation could become dangerous if Turkey releases 100,000 or more migrants towards Greece. It appears that in recent months Erdogan has been letting migrants travel onwards a little bit at a time, keeping Europe in check, even though he receives money from Europe. Many compare him to a small Stalin, and we will see what the situation will be after the election in Turkey at the end of June. EU will then have to become organised, since it has not approached this problem seriously enough, and this is also true for the Greek government, which has many other problems,” emphasises Hadžiprodrimidis and adds that more and more European countries are following the example of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban.

The Sarajevo journalist Nidžara Ahmetašević, who cooperates with numerous members of the media in Europe and who, as an activist, is well-informed on the migrant situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, considers the situation to be chaotic. Hundreds of people spent their days and nights in parks because only 400 of around 1000 migrants are housed in the only migrant camp in Salakovec near Mostar. They have no status, neither as refugees nor as asylum seekers. In the last three years, Bosnia and Herzegovina has not approved any asylum application. There are more and more Iranians, Pakistani and citizens from north African countries.

Many of them have been travelling for three years; they are ill and tired from the road, and they particularly dread encountering the Croatian police. For this reason, smugglers have raised their prices and charge €2,500 per person for the route from Bihać to Zagreb. Ahmetašević believes that authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina deliberately complicate administrative matters with the aim of having migrants move on as soon as possible. “Each day that the number of migrants increases, the chaos deepens.”

N. Ž.