Thousands of migrants reach Austria as hordes remain trapped by European infighting

Migrants arrive at the border crossing between Obrezje in Slovenia and Bregana in Croatia on Sept. 19.

Migrants arrive at the border crossing between Obrezje in Slovenia and Bregana in Croatia on Sept. 19.

(Igor Kupljenik/ European Pressphoto Agency)

Thousands of exhausted refugees and migrants made their way Saturday into Austria, the final way station before the coveted destination of Germany, after navigating a series of debilitating detours along the increasingly ragged frontiers of the European Union.

Large backlogs of asylum-seekers remained stranded in the gateway states of Slovenia and Croatia, both former Yugoslav republics, and Hungary, which has taken the hardest line against migrants and refugees seeking to transit its territory in search of wealthier -- and friendlier -- havens to the north and west.

Police in Slovenia, which has publicly declared its unwillingness to become part of the pathway leading from southeastern Europe toward Germany and the Scandinavian countries, said Saturday that at least 1,500 people had arrived, with hundreds more waiting on the other side of its frontier with Croatia.

Europe is weathering its greatest migration crisis since World War II. Among the crush of humanity that has moved north and west across the Continent in recent weeks, racing the clock against winter, the largest share are from Syria and Afghanistan, with a smorgasbord of other nationalities and ethnic groups represented as well.


Media reports in Slovenia said hundreds of migrants and refugees set out for Austria on foot Saturday after being allowed to pass. But the bottlenecks that have developed on the frontiers of Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia have led to dire humanitarian conditions, with people sleeping in chilly open fields and pleading for passage.

More than 20,000 people were reported to have entered Croatia since Wednesday, after Hungary’s razor-wire border fence and defensive measures such as tear gas sent multitudes surging to alternative routes.

Austria, while far better equipped than its poor neighbors to the southeast to feed and shelter those arriving, says it too is struggling. About 7,000 arrivals were reported in Austria between midnight and midday Saturday, with more on the way.

Germany and Austria reinstated border checks after essentially flinging open the doors for a period of a little over a week. Even wealthy Germany announced that it was overwhelmed by the numbers of those arriving -- more than 65,000 this month alone.

Hungary has been unapologetic about its unyielding opposition to migrants and refugees passing through, even though virtually none of them want to stay. “We have to defend the country,” right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared Saturday in a televised speech.

Germany, which has taken in by far the largest share of new arrivals, has pushed other European Union members to accept more refugees and migrants, but has made little headway. European officials are also seeking to divert emergency funds to Syria’s neighbors, including Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, which have found themselves on the front lines as millions of Syrians have fled a brutal war now in its fifth year.

Worsening weather and choppy sea conditions continued to claim the lives of those making the short but risky journey from Turkey to Greece’s eastern isles to begin the northward trek. A 5-year-old girl pulled unconscious from the water after a vessel capsized died in the hospital, Greek authorities said Saturday.

Even the northernmost reaches of Europe are feeling the effects of the massive migratory wave. In the Finnish border town of Tornio, just shy of the Arctic Circle, hundreds of flag-waving Finns staged a demonstration near the crossing with Sweden, calling on authorities to keep migrants out.


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