Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said Friday his nation is overwhelmed by a huge influx of refugees, and will redirect people toward Hungary and Slovenia as they move north in hopes of reaching more prosperous European countries.
His comments came hours after Croatia closed all but one of its border crossings with Serbia, where officials — fearing this would leave thousands of refugees stuck in their country — threatened to take Croatia to the international courts over the closure.
It wasn't immediately clear how Croatia's move would improve the situation, since both Hungary and Slovenia are taking steps to keep refugees out, deepening a crisis as people seek a route to refuge.
"We cannot register and accommodate these people any longer," Milanovic said at a news conference. "They will get food, water and medical help, and then they can move on."
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.
Earlier, Croatia's interior minister said that with some 13,000 refugees having entered the country since Wednesday, the nation's capacity to take in more had been "saturated.”
Milanovic, meanwhile, said Croatia had no other choice but to redirect refugees elsewhere.
"What else can we do?" he said. "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 represents a longer and more difficult route into Europe, but those fleeing violence in their homelands have had little choice. Many of those arriving are Syrians and Iraqis fleeing war, and seeking safety and prosperity in Germany and elsewhere in Western Europe.
Croatia has closed all but one of its border crossings with Serbia. 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.
"The European Union must know that Croatia will not become a migrant hotspot. We have hearts, but we also have heads," he said.
Serbian officials, fearing the closure in Croatia would block thousands of refugees 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."
But Despite the border closures, many continued entering Croatia through cornfields. People in wheelchairs and women carrying children were among the thousands rushing in the heat in hopes of finding refuge.
Slovenia has also been returning others to Croatia, and has stopped all rail traffic between the two countries. Slovenian police have also 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 refugees from entering the country there.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the first phase of the 25-mile barrier would 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."
Given the developments, there seemed to be 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."