TOVARNIK, Croatia: Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said Friday his nation is overwhelmed by a huge influx of migrants and will redirect people toward Hungary and Slovenia as they move north in hopes of reaching more prosperous European countries.
It wasn't immediately clear how Croatia's move would solve the situation since both Hungary and Slovenia are taking steps to keep migrants out, deepening a crisis as people seek a route to refuge.
Huge numbers of people have surged into Croatia after Hungary erected a barbed wire-fence on its border with Serbia and took other tough measures to stop them from using it as a gateway into Western Europe. Croatia represents a longer and more difficult route into Europe, but those fleeing violence in their homelands had little choice.
Many of the migrants are Syrians and Iraqis fleeing war and are seeking safety and prosperity in Germany and elsewhere in Western Europe.
Milanovic said that Croatia can no longer register people in accordance to European Union rules, but will let them pass through. He suggested it will transfer them to the borders, primarily to the Hungarian border.
"What else can we do?" he said at a news conference. "You are welcome in Croatia and you can pass through Croatia. But, go on. Not because we don't like you but because this is not your final destination."
Croatia closed all but one of its border crossings with Serbia after straining to cope with more than 14,000 migrants who have entered the country after Hungary closed its border.
Still, the country's prime minister insisted that the country was not sealing off its border and would not do so. Milanovic said Croatia is simply overwhelmed by a situation which has "gone far beyond our capabilities." He appealed to the European Union to step in and help.
"We are calling on the EU to realize that Croatia will not be a hot-spot," he said. "We have a heart but we also have a brain."
Serbian officials, fearing the closure in Croatia would block thousands of migrants inside the country, protested Zagreb's move. Aleksandar Vulin, Serbia's social affairs minister, said Serbia will take Croatia to international courts if the international border crossings remain closed, arguing that it should have been prepared for the influx.
"We will not pay the price of someone else's incapability," Vulin said. "I am sorry to see that Croatian humanity and solidarity lasted just two days."
However, despite the border closures, many continued entering Croatia through cornfields. Women carrying children and people in wheelchairs were among the thousands rushing in the heat in hopes of finding refuge.
One of the more desperate situations was unfolding in the eastern Croatian town of Beli Manastir, near the border with Hungary. Migrants slept on streets, on train tracks and at a local gas station.
People were scrambling to board local buses, without knowing where they were going.
Mandica Yurisha, a Croatian Red Cross volunteer, said it was clear nobody wanted to remain in Croatia.
"The first thing they ask is where is the train to Slovenia and Germany," Yurisha said. "We don't know how to answer this question, and I see that they are very nervous and very tired."
Some have made their way north to Slovenia already. Around 100 people crossed into Slovenia from Croatia and were being held at a makeshift processing center in the border town of Berizce.
But Slovenia has also been returning others to Croatia and has stopped all rail traffic between the two countries. Slovenian police have intercepted dozens of migrants who tried to cross through the forests overnight into the country from Croatia.
Meanwhile, Hungary started building another razor-wire fence overnight, this time along a stretch of its border with Croatia to keep migrants from entering the country there. The migrants would prefer the quicker route to Europe through Hungary, instead of taking the longer route through Slovenia.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the first phase of the 41-kilometer (25-mile) barrier will be completed on Friday, with coils of razor wire being laid down before an actual fence goes up. In addition, he said he would deploy 1,800 soldiers and 800 police to the border with Croatia over the next days to keep out migrants.
He lashed out at those in the West who have criticized his handling of the migrant crisis.
"The critical voices from there are not calming down," Orban said, adding that European politics and media are governed by a "suicidal liberalism" that "puts our way of life at risk."
There was little hope in sight for thousands of people stranded on the doorstep to Western Europe.
"Returning back to our country is impossible, because we have no financial means or the moral strength to go back home," said Abu Mohamed who fled Idlib in Syria, leaving his wife and children behind in the hopes of making it to Europe.
He said Europeans have nothing to fear from people like himself.
"We are coming with our modest Islamic perspectives. Terrorism remains back home, terrorism is not coming with us," he said. "We were the victims and oppressed back home in our societies."