While migrants scuffled with police at a transit camp in Croatia, nations in southeast Europe scolded and threatened each other Tuesday as the unrelenting flow of asylum-seekers raised diplomatic tensions to a boiling point.
As European Union ministers met in Brussels on the migrant crisis, the United Nations’ refugee agency said the next few days may be the last chance for a coherent European response as hundreds of thousands flow from war-torn areas in the Middle East, Africa and Asia to Europe.
In Brussels, EU interior ministers were trying Tuesday to forge consensus on a plan to distribute 120,000 refugees throughout the 28-nation bloc according to mandatory quotas. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia are vehemently opposed to the quota plan, while Latvia and Poland are also skeptical. A day later, EU leaders are holding an emergency summit on the migrant crisis.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees warned that the proposal on the table isn’t enough to stabilize the situation, because 477,906 people have already entered Europe by sea this year. It urged the EU to quickly set up facilities in Greece, where tens of thousands have arrived after making the hazardous sea crossing from Turkey.
This may be “the last opportunity for a coherent European response,” said Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for UNHCR.
The clashes in Croatia on Tuesday began when hundreds of people surged toward the gates of a transit camp providing temporary sanctuary for asylum-seekers who have flooded in since Hungary shut its border last week with neighboring Serbia. Adding to the chaos, those already inside the camp in the eastern village of Opatovac mobbed the gates and demanded to leave, saying they had been assured they would stay only 24 hours before being allowed to continue efforts to seek sanctuary in Europe.
Riot police got the migrants to halt the pushing and shoving. Lines formed for those wanting to enter the camp, while those wanting to leave were waiting for buses to take them to Hungary.
On the diplomatic front, tensions between Serbia and Croatia took a sharp turn for the worse, with Serbia giving Croatia an ultimatum to reopen its border — or risk unspecified counter- measures. Croatia shut down all but one of its border crossings with Serbia last week to block the flow of migrants, which has now reached 34,900 in less than a week. But the action is crippling Serbia’s economy, which transports cargo across Croatia to reach much of Europe.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic called an emergency session of all security services, including the military, to discuss the crisis. The two nations have a tense history after fighting bitterly in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
“This is a scandal of international proportions,” Vucic said. “Croatia has breached all European agreements and directives.”
Croatia, angry that Serbia is busing migrants to its borders, seemed unlikely to honor any Serb demand.
“Mix it up a little,” Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said. “Send them a bit to Hungary and Romania.”
Hungary’s foreign minister got into the verbal melee, declaring that political relations with fellow EU neighbor Croatia are at a “freezing point” and may improve only after parliamentary elections there produce a new government. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said it was easier for Croatia to quickly transport migrants to the border with Hungary instead of caring for them themselves.
In Greece, bad weather created more misery as thunderstorms drenched hundreds who had been camping out in a main square in Athens.
“We have nothing. No water, no food, no shelter. We are living in tents, we need help,” said Mohamed Saber Nazari, a 20-year-old Afghan camping in Victoria Square. “You see all the families living in the rain, with small children? Something must be organized for us.”
A local taxi driver sympathized with the migrant’s plight. Adrian Mustafa, 45, had walked to Greece from Albania more than 20 years ago and has been living in the country since then.
“If you go through what these people are going through, only then will you understand,” he said. “They don’t want to stay here, but they live under bad conditions.”
Elsewhere, Austrian police said about 1,000 new arrivals were expected soon at the main border crossing point with Hungary, after nearly 10,000 people trekked into the country on Monday at the Nickelsdorf crossing east of Vienna. A police spokesman said Hungary is sending the 1,000 migrants to its side of the border by train. From there, the migrants usually walk into Austria.