Croatia, Hungary in Diplomatic Spat Over Tide of Migrants

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By Alastair Jamieson

Thousands of refugees and migrants were caught up in a diplomatic spat between Croatia and Hungary Saturday amid deepening discord and disarray in Europe over the biggest westwards migration in decades.

Croatia said on Saturday it had “forced” Hungary to take in thousands of migrants and would continue sending them to its northern neighbor.

More than 20,000 migrants, many of them Syrian refugees, have streamed into Croatia since Hungary on Tuesday barred their route to the European Union through its southern border with Serbia with a metal fence, tear gas and water cannon.

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said his country would give them food, water and medical attention, and send them on their way.

There were increasingly ugly exchanges between the two countries, reflecting the anger and ill-feeling between the EU’s 28 member states over what to do with the hundreds of thousands of migrants reaching its shores, fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

A man climbs through the window as refugees struggle to get on a train in Hungary on Saturday.VLADIMIR SIMICEK / AFP - Getty Images

Photo Gallery: Migrants Scramble to Board Packed Trains in Croatia

Hungary said Croatia had let the European Union down by failing to defend adequately the bloc's external frontier.

"Croatia has let down not just Hungary but the EU and has given up on all legal commitments that bind it," government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told reporters. Croatia was "continuously" bringing migrants to Hungary's border, he said.

Hungarian soldiers are racing to build a fence like the one on the border with Serbia along a stretch of the Croatian frontier too, and have rolled out coils of razor wire. Milanovic was dismissive of the move. "Borders can only be closed by brute force," he said, "and that means killing."

On Croatia’s western flank, 1,200 migrants have crossed into Slovenia, like Hungary a member of Europe’s Schengen zone of border-free travel. Crowds were building on Saturday at border crossings, kept back by riot police who briefly fired pepper spray late on Friday. Police began letting through small groups.

"I feel frustrated, we’re so tired," said Siha, 35, from the Syrian city of Aleppo, the country’s commercial hub reduced in many parts to rubble since the Syrian war began in 2011. With two small children, she was waiting on a bridge in no-man’s land at the Harmica border crossing into Slovenia.

“We left Turkey 10 days ago. The trip was very dangerous for the kids. I decided to leave Syria because I want my kids to have a comfortable life, to study,” Siha said.

Meanwhile, girl believed to be five years old died and as many as 13 migrants may be missing at sea off the Greek island of Lesbos, the Greek coastguard said Saturday.

Nikos Lagkadianos, a coastguard spokesman, said 11 people were rescued from the sea between Lesbos and Turkey and one swam ashore in the early hours. The survivors said they thought 13 of their number were missing.

The girl was found unconscious and was declared dead later at hospital, Lagkadianos said.

In July and August alone, Greece saw 150,000 arrivals, Greece's pre-election interim maritime minister, Christos Zois, told Reuters this week.

Reuters contributed.