#Slovenia starts building razor-wire fence to stem flow of migrants
Ljubljana, Slovenia ( Agencies + DIPLOMAT.SO) — Slovenia began erecting a razor-wire fence at its border with Croatia on Wednesday to stem the flow migrants as winter closes in and countries to the north tighten border controls.
A day after the authorities warned of a “human catastrophe,” a convoy of army trucks carrying barbed wire and construction equipment arrived in Veliki Obrez, at the southern border with Croatia, at dawn on Wednesday.
Throughout the morning, soldiers rolled out the razor wire along the Slovenian side of the Sotla, a river which forms part of the 400-mile border with Croatia.
Slovenia is a crucial part of the so-called Balkan route for migrants because its border with Croatia is on the southern frontier of the Schengen area, which allows passport-free travel through much of Europe.
More than 171,000 people have entered Slovenia from Croatia since Oct. 16, when Hungary closed its border and redirected the flow of migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia to Slovenia, a nation of two million.
The wall threatens to cause a major disruption on the route, just as winter is approaching. Still, migrants have largely been able to find their way around similar obstacles, like the complete shutdown of the Hungarian borders, and officials are already looking toward Albania and Italy as possible alternatives for asylum seekers.
Most migrants have moved on to Austria and then Germany, and Slovenia has insisted that it could manage the influx, which has generally been 6,000 to 8,000 people a day, as long as the number of those entering the country more or less equals the number of those exiting.
Austria recently said it could accept only a maximum of 6,000 people a day from Slovenia as Germany, the preferred destination for most migrants, started to slow down the flow of migrants and intensified the screening process.
As a result, the Slovenian prime minister, Miro Cerar, said that it was likely that many of the 30,000 migrants who were in his country traveling northward from Greece could be stranded, and that he had limited space and resources to properly accommodate them during winter.
“It’s a big number,” Mr. Cerar said, adding that if Austria and Germany imposed tougher restrictions — or closed their borders entirely — as many as 100,000 people could end up in Slovenia.
“If we don’t act now, we could have a humanitarian catastrophe on the territory of Slovenia,” Mr. Cerar said at a news conference on Tuesday after the government approved the construction of the fence.
“The purpose of the technical barrier on the border with Croatia is to help control the flow of migrants across Europe’s Schengen border into our country and direct people to designated crossing points,” Mr. Cerar said.
He did not provide details about the length and exact location of the fence, but he emphasized that the border with Croatia “will remain open.”
The migrants crisis has been the source of tension between two European Union nations that were once were part of the same country, Yugoslavia.
Slovenia had accused Croatia of dumping thousands of desperate people at random locations on the border, leaving them to find their own way into Slovenia and prompting the country to bring in the army to assist overwhelmed police officers.
For its part, Slovenia has complained that European Union leaders in Brussels have failed to come up with a common strategy to manage the largest movement of people across the Continent since World War II. European Union leaders are convening in Malta on Wednesday for what will be their sixth meeting of the year devoted to the migration crisis.
Slovenia demanded financial help, personnel and other forms of aid, but assistance has been slow to arrive. Despite pledges, less than half of the 400 police officers promised by European countries have arrived, and other help, like winterized tents and additional medical personnel, is only trickling in.
The European Union has given Slovenia 10 million euros, or about $10.72 million, a fraction of the amount the country needs to care for the migrants.
The decision to build the fence drew sharp criticism from humanitarian organizations and human rights activists in Slovenia. Last week, an open letter accused the government of failing the migrants by leaving them out in the open, hungry and cold, while the authorities register and process them in accordance with Schengen rules.