Vladimir Simicek / AFP / Getty Images

Refugees arrive in Austria after angry Croatia-Hungary tug-of-war

Nearly 7,000 enter Western Europe after shuttling between bickering Croatia and Hungary

Thousands of refugees made their way into Austria on Saturday, seeking refuge after shuttling for days in bordering countries that were unable or unwilling to offer them shelter. 

Austrian police said about 6,700 people traveled to the central European country from Hungary after being trapped Friday in a vicious tug-of-war as bickering European governments shut border crossings, blocked bridges and erected new barbed-wire fences in a bid to stop entries.

Meanwhile, hundreds of asylum seekers traveling through Croatia who chose a route to Western Europe through Slovenia instead of Austria were stranded on the border after not being allowed entry.

Thousands of refugees have arrived in Austria in recent weeks, many living in overcrowded camps outside of Vienna. More are expected in Austria as people continue to make their way north via Turkey and Greece after fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

Asylum seekers who headed westward into Croatia after being beaten back by tear gas and water cannons on the Hungarian-Serbian border days earlier found themselves being returned to Serbia or to Hungary, after Croatia declared it could not handle the influx.

Hungary then put them on buses, and sent them on to Austria. More were expected Saturday. Meanwhile, Hungary's military said that it is calling up 500 army reservists as the country reinforces its borders with razor-wire fences, the deployment of thousands of soldiers to the border and other tough measures.

Police in Slovenia said more than 1,000 refugees have entered the country, but hundreds more are waiting at the border as they let in only limited numbers. As temperatures dipped overnight, hundreds of refugees at the Obrezje crossing set up tents and camped without food and water.

Ammar Jessem, 24, a dentist from Baghdad, said the travelers had heard the border was open, and were disappointed after walking through Croatia in hopes of going north.

"We don't want to stay here. We want to go to Austria. From Austria we go everywhere," he said.

"It is a small country and we can go by walking," he added, undeterred. "It is no problem for us."

The European Union's failure to find a unified response to the crisis left Croatia, one of the poorest countries in the EU, squeezed between the blockades thrown up by Hungary and Slovenia and large numbers of people traveling north from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Though expressing sympathy with their plight, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic demanded that the EU step forward and take responsibility for the people in transit through the country of 4.2 million. More than 20,000 have arrived since Wednesday.

"We're flooded, local communities are flooded, the numbers of refugees in some areas is far greater (than) the number of local residents," she said. "So we need to control, we need to stop the flow, we need to get reassurances from European Union what happens to these people who are already in Croatia, and those who still want to transit through Croatia."

Mindful of people crossing cornfields and forests to transit her country, Kitarovic stressed further measures would be taken to secure Croatia's borders. Underscoring that Croatia itself has only recently begun to recover from the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, Kitarovic said that refugees were also in danger of stepping on mines leftover from the conflict.

"I will advise highly anyone to use official crossings, but we have to take further measures to insure stability on the border, and that there are no breaches through the cornfields, or forests or any other areas that are not controlled or cleared," she said.

The thousands seeking sanctuary as doors close behind them are camping in the open, sleeping on streets, exposed to heat in the day and cold in the night.

The Associated Press

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