ZÁKÁNY, Hungary: Hungary closed its border with Croatia to migrants early Saturday in a bid to block the path of streams of refugees desperate to get to northern Europe, while a much-hyped EU deal to stem the crisis looked shaky.
After the last 1,500 or so migrants to arrive by train on the Croatian side trudged silently through mud over the informal Zakany crossing, Hungarian police and soldiers sealed it with barbed wire shortly before 1 a.m., said AFP reporters at the scene.
“Closure!” shouted a soldier after the last weary travelers had passed through slowly in single file, some of them carrying an elderly woman in a wheelchair and children’s buggies.
“The ‘green border’ has been closed (to economic migrants) but you can still cross the border legally and seek asylum,” government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told AFP.
The two official border posts of Beremend and Letenje remain open for those with valid papers.
Earlier Friday, Croatia said it would begin diverting migrants on its territory to Slovenia after Hungary announced it would close the border — a key crossing point on the travellers’ route since Budapest sealed its frontier with Serbia in mid-September.
Most migrants — many of them fleeing conflict or poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia — are trying to get to Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, which has said it expects up to one million asylum seekers this year.
Hungary’s shut-down came as an EU deal with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants looked precarious, after Ankara said Brussels had offered too little money and mocked Europe’s efforts to tackle the refugee crisis.
Just hours after the European Union announced the accord with great fanfare at a leaders’ summit, Ankara said the plan to defuse a crisis that has seen some 600,000 mostly Syrian migrants enter the EU this year was just a draft.
In the latest in a series of jabs at Europe over the crisis, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ridiculed the bloc’s efforts to help Syrian refugees.
“They announce they’ll take in 30,000 to 40,000 refugees and then they are nominated for the Nobel for that. We are hosting two and a half million refugees but nobody cares,” Erdogan said.
The Turkish leader also challenged the EU to take Ankara’s bid for EU membership more seriously.
“They keep saying ‘We can’t do without Turkey.’ It’s very clear but they are not being clear. Then why don’t you let Turkey in the EU?” he asked.