More than 12,000 refugees and migrants have crossed into Slovenia in the past 24 hours and thousands more are expected to arrive, prompting the government in Ljubljana on Thursday to appeal for help from the European Union.
Slovenia asked the EU, of which it is a member state, for police to help regulate the flow of refugees crossing the border from Croatia, Interior Minister Vesna Gyorkos Znidar told TV Slovenia.
Fellow EU-member state Croatia on Thursday also requested help from the international community in dealing with the crisis. Officials requested blankets, winter tents, beds and other provisions to accommodate the influx of refugees and migrants, according to news agency Hind. Since mid-September, an estimated 217,000 refugees have entered Croatia — most escaping conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as South and Central Asia.
Refugees and migrants began entering Slovenia last Friday, when Hungary closed its border with Croatia. Before then, they were heading for Hungary — a member of Europe's Schengen zone of visa-free travel — and then north and west toward Austria and Germany. Sealing the border diverted them to Slovenia, which is also a member of the Schengen zone.
In response to the crisis, Slovenia's parliament voted on Wednesday to grant greater powers to the army and allow soldiers to join border police in patrolling the 416-mile frontier with Croatia. Slovenia also voiced sharp criticism over Croatia's decision to open its borders on Monday night, allowing thousands of undocumented people to enter Slovenia.
With more refugees and migrants attempting to cross through the Balkans to Western Europe, thousands of people are spending cold nights under open skies in Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia — creating a humanitarian crisis.
An additional 9,000 people are expected to enter Serbia on Thursday, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Serbia.
"It is alarming, because the weather is getting cold," Seda Kuzucu, UNHCR field coordinator in Presevo, told Reuters.
Of the refugees and migrants who’ve left Croatia for Slovenia, an estimated 2,000 people wrapped in blankets walked through cornfields overnight to reach the small town of Rigance. From there, they will be taken to a nearby camp and after registering with the government continue on their journeys to Austria and Germany.
Anas Kaial, a 31-year old Syrian refugee from Hama, where he ran a snooker bar, spent the night under open skies with his mother, wife and three children.
"It was so cold," he said. "The only way we could distract our children from the cold and make them stop crying was by telling them that they will get all the Barbie dolls they want once we come to Germany. It's enough. We just want to have a normal, simple life. We can't afford more bloodshed and shelling."
An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011. While most have fled to neighboring countries – including Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan – thousands have also made their way to Europe, many crossing the dangerous seas on dinghies.
The steady arrival of refugees and migrants to Europe has ignited fears in countries across the EU of added financial burdens at a time when the region is facing a down economy. Opponents of resettlement for the refugees and migrants have also been accused of racism.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Wednesday urged European leaders to change their immigration policies and involve voters in a debate about the continent's future, saying they would otherwise face a political crisis and a threat to the democratic order.
Orban said he asked Hungary's Balkan neighbors to help send refugees and migrants back to their countries.
"The right thing to do is not to ensure their passage into Europe but to take them back to the refugee camps they started out from," he said.
European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos visited Slovenia on Thursday to discuss the crisis. Meanwhile, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for a meeting of several European leaders for Sunday.
Invited to the meeting are leaders of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia.