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Confused and cold, more refugees cross Croatia and Hungary

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By Alasdair Sandford  with Reuters
Confused and cold, more refugees cross Croatia and Hungary

There was total confusion for some 3,000 refugees and migrants on Saturday after they got stranded between Serbia and Croatia.

Croatian police say Serbian buses had dropped them off in an empty field near the border.

On the Croatian side local villagers in Strošinci stepped in to help.

Buses were then organised to take people to a local train station, from where they have been transported on towards Hungary.

“They closed the border at Bajakovo, so people came here. So be it, let them pass. Let them save their lives. Nobody is running away from a good life,” said one villager, Stjepan Novoselac.

After pressure from the European Union, Croatia has re-opened its border with Serbia, ending a week-long standoff that had plunged relations between the two Balkan states to their lowest since Yugoslavia broke up in bloodshed in the 1990s.

During the dispute thousands of refugees and migrants became stranded in Strošinci and surrounding areas.

Many have been taken to a centre at Opatovac for some food and rest, before being transported north to border crossings with Hungary: at Baranjsko Petrovo Selo, Terezino Polje and Botovo.

Croatia says 10,000 migrants entered its territory on Friday alone. Near the border with Serbia ex-military facilities are being converted into another reception centre. The authorities have been trying to control the flow of people by letting smaller groups at a time enter from Serbia.

Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic made this appeal: “The message remains the same: do not torture those people by transiting them to Croatia so we could send them to Hungary – solve it directly and give us here at least some relief.”

By the time they get there many people appear tired and confused.

Along the way some were not sure which country they were in, or where they wanted to go.

For now Hungary has been busing migrants and refugees straight to the Austrian border, where thousands crossed on foot on Saturday. The country has nearly completed a fence on the border with Croatia. The prime minister has said what happens there will soon be decisive for the refugee crisis.

On Friday Viktor Orban made a surprise visit to Vienna to seek Austrian support for his policy.

On Saturday Hungary issued an angry rebuke to Croatia, demanding that Zagreb “stop criticising” its stance towards the refugee crisis.

Many refugees say they had no choice but to make the journey to Europe.

While European countries continue to bicker over what to do with them, the weather is getting colder and winter will soon be approaching – but migrants, many of whom have been travelling for several weeks, are often visibly unprepared.

At the border crossing between Hungary and Austria at Hegyeshalom, many could be seen wearing summer clothes including sandals, despite maximum temperatures of 17C, strong winds and rain showers. Some people had no shoes at all.