Migrants told 'Be patient' as entry to Croatia slows

AFP , Sunday 18 Oct 2015

Migrants in Serbia
A migrant holds a child aloft, as migrants wait to cross the border line between Serbia and Croatia, near the village of Berkasovo, about 100 km west from Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015 (Photo: AP)

Two Syrian sisters hold up a sign on an improvised board made of pink rubber -- an attempt to keep fellow refugees calm as they wait in long, slow-moving queues at the Serbia-Croatia border.

"There are no buses right now. Be patient, we will tell you when to go," reads the message written in Arabic, carried by Rawan, 23, her 12-year-old sibling Dina and a Czech volunteer, as lines of people stretch back for hundreds of metres.

"While we're waiting to cross the border we're helping volunteers to explain to people what's going on," Rawan said.

"We have been here since 7:00 am this morning and I am dead tired after spending 48 hours in buses."

The sisters, travelling from war-torn Damascus with their father, were among around 2,000 refugees waiting to cross into Croatia from Serbia on Sunday afternoon as the flow of travellers allowed to go over the border dramatically slowed down.

Like tens of thousands before them, they are desperately trying to reach northern Europe, but their plans have been hindered by EU member Hungary's decision to close its Croatia border to migrants.

Since the razor wire was rolled out in the early hours of Saturday, the men, women and children on the move are being redirected to Slovenia after crossing into Croatia.

But the Slovenian government is standing firm in its decision to handle no more than 2,500 migrants a day -- causing delays further down the migrant trail and raising fears of a human bottleneck.

"Everything has slowed down since Hungary closed the border," a police officer at the Berkasovo crossing in Serbia told AFP, explaining that it took Croatian buses longer to get to Slovenia and back than it did to Hungary.

Earlier Sunday, migrants were forced to sit for several hours in about 50 buses stuck in Serbia near the border after Croatia stopped allowing any crossings. They later resumed, but at a much slower pace than before.

Late in the afternoon, hundreds were sitting on cardboard pieces on the ground in a queue that nudged forward roughly once every half hour.

Dozens of children of all ages were making noise, running around and laughing as they played with each other. Others were crying, visibly exhausted and nervous.

Those at the front of the queue were taken into a tent in groups of 50, before being allowed by Croatian police to cross and board a bus towards a refugee centre.

Eissa, a 23-year old English literature student from the Syrian town of Aleppo, said nobody had told him and his relatives why they was a delay.

"I am fine, I can wait, but I am worried about children, my four nephews. It is getting cold and they can get ill," he said.

Apart from occasional tense moments, the migrants were mostly patient, despite showing signs of tiredness and confusion due to a lack of explanation over the hold-up.

Some sipped coffee or tea while others ate sandwiches prepared by volunteers and activists from Serbia's Red Cross and the UN refugee agency, who also gave out jackets and blankets.

Zaman, a visibly tired 33-year-old from Baghdad, called her four children running through a muddy cornfield by the road to come closer to her watchful eye.

Bound for Vienna, where her husband is already settled, Zaman hoped they could be on their way before night fell -- her three-year-old Sara was already suffering from a cold.

"I do not mind if it is through Hungary or Slovenia, I just want to go," she said.

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