UN says European unity at risk as borders close to refugees

Thousands of refugees enter Austria after being refused entry in Croatia, Hungary, and Slovenia.

Thousands of refugees have streamed into Austria after being shunted through Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia as Europe’s divided nations stepped up efforts to push asylum-seekers into neighbouring countries, prompting the UN to warn that the concept of European Unity was at risk, the Guardian reported.

Europe’s biggest refugee crisis in 70 years has seen bordering countries engage in border confrontations and diplomatic disputes, as refugees were blocked from passing through a number of crossings into Europe. The issue has raised questions on how the influx of refugees shall be distributed, and also raised questions over the fate of the Schengen agreement allowing borderless travel within the 28-nation bloc.

Peter Sutherland, the UN’s special representative on international migration, said: “If there is no agreement to share refugees between the countries of the European Union, it risks undermining the very essence of the European project.”

Sutherland was also surprised at how central and eastern European countries were undermining some of the EU’s key values so soon after joining its membership. “It’s amazing that this is the reaction of central and eastern Europe to the whole concept of solidarity, having only just joined,” Sutherland said.

Several countries have imposed border controls, as recent figures have shown nearly half a million people have braved perilous trips across the Mediterranean to reach Europe so far this year, while the EU has received almost a quarter of a million asylum requests in the three months to June.

Hungary sent armoured vehicles to its border with Croatia, while Slovenian police sealed several crossings after Croatia attempted to offload tens of thousands of refugees who are using it as an alternative entry point to the European Union.

Croatian policemen accompanying hundreds of migrants into Hungary were disarmed by their Hungarian counterparts and turned away, while Slovenian police used pepper spray to ward off hundreds, mostly Syrians and Afghans, trying to cross to reach the countries of northern Europe.

The chaos had been sparked by Hungary’s decision to shut off its southern border with Serbia, blocking a well-trodden refugee railroad that has brought more than 170,000 refugees into the EU since the start of the year.

In response, refugees flooded instead into Croatia, which immediately tried to move them back into Hungary and Slovenia. Croatia’s prime minister, Zoran Milanovic, called Hungary’s actions “incomprehensible”, given that no refugee wanted to stay in Hungary, and said the situation was “the ugliest thing I have seen in Croatia since the [Balkans] war”. He also refused to seal Croatia’s border, because “even if that were possible under the constitution – and it is not – it means killing people”.

In Austria, up to 13,000 people entered the country over the course of Saturday alone, the head of the Austrian Red Cross told the APA news agency. Austrian police said Hungary had shipped at least 6,700 people to the border,

Elsewhere, Italy’s coastguard on Saturday said it had picked up more than 4,500 people off the Libyan coast, as calm seas sparked a flurry of attempts to cross the Mediterranean.