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News 26 Dec 17

Refugees Demand to be Allowed Into Croatia

Dozens of refugees are protesting near the border between Serbia and Croatia, demanding that Croatia let them in - while Serbia's refugee commissariat had said it fears they have been 'manipulated' by NGOs

Maja Zivanovic

Refugees on the Serbian, Croatian border on Tuesday. Photo: No Name Kitchen

Dozens of refugees have been protesting for two days at the Tovarnik border checkpoint between Serbia and Croatia, urging the Croatian authorities to let them in - while Serbia's Commissariat for Refugees accused NGOs of feeding them false information.

“On Monday, around 60 refugees came from Belgrade via Sid [in Serbia] to Tovarnik, following the railway, but the Croatian police didn’t let them enter,” the Humanitarian Centre Novi Sad, NSHCR, whose activists are monitoring the situation, told BIRN.

The refugees who came from Belgrade were reportedly expecting support from other refugees based in camps near Sid, which did not happen.

“They were afraid they could lose their places in the camps if they left to join the protest,” NSHCR told BIRN.

According to NGOs, between 100 and 150 people arrived on Monday at Tovarnik from all over Serbia and are spending the nights in the open air.

The Facebook page of the NGO No Name Kitchen said its activists were providing warm food, fresh water, a power generator and milk for the children.

“They are not letting them reach tents on the border. We can't either. We keep informing. We keep cooking. We keep fighting,” the post published on Monday said.

No Name Kitchen on Tuesday published more pictures from the protest, showing families with children holding messges that read: “Please open the borders” and “I’m human too.”

Pictures show the presence of the police also.

However, Serbia's Commissariat for Refugees of Serbia told BIRN that some NGOs had, in effect, created the problem, by wrongly informing refugees that if they protested on the border in large numbers over Christmas, the Croatian authorities would let them in.

“Unfortunately this is again about manipulated people who were told by some NGOs that, over the Catholic Christmas, if they appeared in a significant number, it would be easier to cross the border with Croatia,” the Commissariat told BIRN on Tuesday.

It added that this was a “complete untruth”, and that Croatian police were not allowing any of them onto their territory. “The Commissariat is constantly appealing to migrants to return to the centres,” it added.

BIRN asked the Serbian Interior Ministry about the situation on the border but received no answer by the time of publication.

Serbia's Commissariat for Refugees says around 4,100 refugees are in in Serbia at this moment, almost all whom are in camps.

Attempts to cross the Serbian-Croatian border without authorisation have had deadly consenquences.

An Afghan migrant called Medina Husein lost her life aged six on November 21 when she was hit by a passing train near the border town of Sid in Serbia.

Her family have launched a law case against Croatia and Serbia, with help of two NGOs.

Both countries are blaming each other for the tragedy. Serbia said on Tuesday that Croatian police disregarded a readmission agreement when they forcibly returned the family to Serbia.

Croatia denies that its border police were responsible and says the family returned to Serbia voluntarily.

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