Brezice (Slovenia): Led by riot police on horseback, thousands of weary refugees marched across western Balkans borderlands as far as the eye could see as authorities cautiously lowered barriers and intensified efforts to cope with a human tide unseen in Europe since World War II.
Leaders of Slovenia deployed military units on Tuesday to support police on their overwhelmed southern border with Croatia, which delivered more than 6,000 asylum seekers by train and bus to the frontier in bitterly disputed circumstances between the former Yugoslav rivals.
With far too few buses available in Slovenia to cope, most people walked 15 kilometers on rural lanes past cornfields and pastures to reach a refugee camp, a challenge eased by sunny weather after days of torrential rain, fog and frigid winds.
On Slovenia’s frontiers with Croatia and Austria, aid workers toiled to erect enough tents and other emergency accommodation to shelter up to 14,000 travellers, more than five times the tiny nation’s previous official limit.
Interior Secretary of State Bostjan Sefic told reporters in the Slovene capital, Ljubljana, that the pressure on border security with Croatia had grown “very difficult with an enormous number of people.” He said Slovenia, an Alpine land of barely 2 million, needed much more help immediately from bigger EU partners to cope or the country might have to adopt border-toughening measures.
“If this continues we will have extreme problems. Slovenia is already in dire straits, an impossible situation,” Sefic said as lawmakers debated whether to increase the military’s powers to manage border security.
In Brussels, Slovenian President Borut Pahor met European Union leaders and said he expected his country to apply for emergency financial aid and border patrol reinforcements from EU partners.
Hungary, long the most popular eastern gateway for people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, has padlocked its borders for refugees progressively over the past month, forcing the tide west through Croatia and Slovenia. All three nations have expressed fears of ending up stuck accommodating tens of thousands of asylum-seekers indefinitely if other EU nations farther north close their borders too.
Croatia, which has erected relatively few shelters along its borders with Serbia and Slovenia, directed thousands into special trains and bus convoys on Tuesday to Slovenia in an apparently concerted effort to clear a backlog built up since Saturday, when Hungary closed its borders with Croatia.
(With inputs from agencies)