Fire breaks out at Slovenia migrant camp
Brezice, Slovenia — Freezing temperatures and burning tents heightened the misery of thousands of people Wednesday as they pushed their way through Europe, hoping to find refuge at the end of their arduous treks.
The European Union’s executive, meanwhile, summoned leaders of the countries on the migrant trail to a summit in Brussels on Sunday in an effort to better coordinate the flow from one country to another.
A fire broke out on Wednesday at a camp for migrants in Slovenia, the current gateway to Austria and beyond. The cause of the fire at the camp in Brezice, on Slovenia’s border with Croatia, was not clear, but migrants had been lighting fires outside their tents to ward off the chilly fall weather.
Several tents were destroyed before firefighters extinguished the flames, and women and children were evacuated from the camp. Many of those at the Brezice camp arrived in the dark after wading or swimming across the Sutla River in temperatures close to freezing.
Slovenian Interior Secretary of State Bostjan Sefic said he was waiting for a police report on the fire.
The migrants “just want to go on their way as soon as possible,” Sefic said. “They are very dissatisfied and unrestful when they stay at a certain place.”
Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia have struggled to cope with the relentless flow of migrants traveling through the Balkans, their journey made more difficult since Hungary erected fences protected by razor wire, police and soldiers on its southern borders, forcing migrants to find new routes west.
Hungary closed its border with Serbia to the free flow of migrants on Sept. 15 and clamped down on its border with Croatia on Saturday. Since then, 21,500 migrants have entered Slovenia from Croatia, including 8,000 on Tuesday, with many thousands more on their way.
Early Wednesday, Slovenian lawmakers granted more powers to the army to work with police in managing the migrant influx along the borders of the small Alpine nation. A few hours later, some 200 soldiers were already taking part in border control.
Slovenia’s Sefic said a new entry point into Austria was being discussed with its northern neighbor to relieve pressure on Slovenia.
In Austria, at least 1,000 migrants rushed in from Slovenia, eluding police controls. They began walking northward on a smaller road next to the A9 highway to Graz. Police spokesman Fritz Grundnig said officers were blocking entry points to the A9 highway and accompanying the migrants on their march.
Further back, hundreds of migrants pushed into Croatia after spending the night out in the open in freezing cold, waiting to cross from Serbia.
Exhausted and chilled, migrants walked down the muddy border passage and over corn fields. Croatian police had deployed on the boundary to stop them but then moved away.
“I am sorry for Europe,” said Iraqi migrant Ari Omar in a field in Rigonce, Slovenia, on the border with Croatia. “We did not think Europe is like this. No respect for refugees, not treating us with dignity. Why is Europe like this?”
U.N. refugee agency officer Francesca Bonelli said around 3,000 migrants were there overnight, including little children, the elderly, people in wheelchairs and many sick and exhausted.
In Cyprus, an EU country in the Mediterranean Sea, 114 people aboard two fishing boats, including 28 children, came ashore at a British air base on the island’s southern coast.
Greek emergency workers joined a search for 15 people reported missing after a small boat carrying refugees sank in Turkish waters on its way to a Greek island.
More than 500,000 people have arrived so far this year on Greece’s eastern islands, paying smugglers to ferry them across from nearby Turkey.
A statement from EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s office said Sunday’s summit was a response to “a need for much greater cooperation, more extensive consultation and immediate operational action.”
Nations invited to attend are EU member states Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia, and non-EU countries Macedonia and Serbia.
“The objective of the meeting will be to agree common operational conclusions which could be immediately implemented,” the EU Commission statement said.