Hungary to close Croatia border to refugees at midnight

Official border posts will continue to operate, but under strict controls, according to Hungarian FM

Hungary to close Croatia border to refugees at midnight

World Bulletin / News Desk

Hungary said Friday it will shut its border with Croatia at midnight, closing a major entry point for refugees bound for northern Europe, weeks after a similar move on its Serbian frontier triggered clashes with refugees.

"The National Security Cabinet has decided that... we will close the green border from midnight (2200 GMT)," foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said.

"The official border posts will continue to operate, but under strict controls," he told a news conference in Budapest.

He said that the move comes after "no decision was reached at the EU summit on Thursday on using common EU forces to defend Greece's external border."

"In normal circumstances, it would be up to Greece to defend the EU's external border, but the Greeks are not able to do this job," he added.

On Wednesday the Hungarian government said it had completed a fence along its border with Croatia and that it was ready to seal the frontier.

Last month, Hungary closed its border with Serbia, until then the main crossing point, with razor wire and fences. 

The move prompted violent clashes between refugees and riot police -- and an international outcry -- but did not stop the flow of people, merely diverting it into Croatia, from where they crossed into Hungary.

EU member Hungary is on the southern frontier of Europe's passport-free Schengen zone, which has come under intense pressure as the European Union faces its biggest refugee crisis since 1945.

More than 386,000 refugees have crossed into the country so far in 2015, with the number likely to exceed 700,000 by the end of the year, according to Hungarian authorities. 

Having travelled up from Greece through the western Balkans, all but a few have continued their journey, crossing into Austria and then further north, often to Germany and Scandinavia.

Szijjarto said that two "transit zones" will now be in operation for refugees to file asylum claims, and that "crossing the border fence will have criminal legal consequences."

Once the border is closed, it is unclear what Croatian authorities will do, with its foreign minister on Wednesday having ruled out erecting "walls or fences" along its border with Serbia.

One possibility is that Croatia will take the refugees to the border with Schengen member Slovenia, which borders Hungary, Austria and Italy.

"Slovenia is intensively preparing for such an option," Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said on Friday before Hungary's announcement.

Last Mod: 16 Ekim 2015, 17:42
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