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News 01 Sep 17

Croatia NGOs Dismiss Media Claims of Migrant Invasion

NGOs in Croatia and the region have dismissed claims made in the Croatian media and on far-right websites that migrants are pouring across the eastern border with Serbia.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Refugees entering Croatia from Serbia in 2015. Photo: Beta

Croatian NGOs working with migrants say they have seen no rise in the number of migrants entering the east of Croatia from Serbia, despite media claims of a massive influx and worries voiced by locals in the eastern border village of Nustar.

Milena Zajovic, from the Zagreb-based NGO Are You Syrous? told BIRN that the number of migrants illegally crossing the border had been more or less the same for months.

“According to our information, there has been no dramatic increase in the number of refugees entering our country these days, and reports of an immigrant 'siege' of Nustar should be attributed to irresponsible sensationalism,” she said.

Lovorka Sosic, from another Zagreb-based NGO, the Centre for Peace Studies, agreed, telling  BIRN that their colleagues on the ground said the number of migrants crossing the border in last weeks had not grown much as far as they are aware.

She said the number rose slightly in the last two months, but “the number has remained constant for a while and is not increasing drastically”.

The public broadcaster Croatian Radio Television, HRT, reported on Wednesday that locals in Nustar, a village some 20 kilometres from the border with Serbia, were alarmed by an influx of migrants pouring in.

Some of them anonymously told HRT that they saw these migrants daily near their homes, and accused the police of covering up the issue of numerous migrants strolling in the nearby forests.

Police have rejected the claims, saying the number of migrants taking the so-called Balkan Route from the Middle East to the West via the Balkans had decreased.

The municipality of Nustar also said there is no need for panic, and added that better communication with the local population was needed.

A far-right news site, Maxportal, reported from Nustar on Saturday that police were using helicopters to “hunt migrants in the forests”, while noting reports of violent break-ins into people’s gardens and thefts.

According to UNHCR, the number of migrants in Serbia fell from 9,000 to 4,500 between March and late-August – meaning that some had probably left Serbia for Croatia – or other countries bordering Serbia.

While saying that no major increase in the number of migrants entering Croatia from Serbia had been noticed, Adrian Nikacevic, from the Jesuit Refugee Service in Belgrade, told BIRN that there was “a growing trend of migrants entering Romania from Serbia”.

He said that "from there, they probably try to enter Hungary and continue their trip to the West.”

He said 212 migrants tried to enter Croatia from Serbia between August 1 and 25, figures that were similar to those in previous months. He said that, in general, the numbers were much the same from the end of winter.

Nikacevic also quoted a report by Doctors without Borders, which said about 220 migrants were staying outside camps in the woods around Sid, a Serbian town close to the border with Croatia.

Two NGOs based in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad – Novi Sad Humanitarian Centre and Humanitarian Centre for Integration and Tolerance – both told BIRN that no surge in the number of migrants trying to cross the border had been noted.

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