ranko ostojić.jpg
Photograph: HINA/ Damir SENČAR /ds

Croatian Minister of the Interior Ranko Ostojic told reporters at the refugee transit centre in Slavonski Brod on Monday that the current ban on the passage of economic migrants from countries unaffected by war along the Balkan refugee route would remain in force until the European Union took a clear position on the matter.

The minister recalled that differentiating between refugees was due to a unilateral decision by Slovenian authorities and their request for the readmission to economic migrants by Croatia.

"At this moment there is no such restriction in Germany," Ostojic said.

The UNHCR last week warned that new migrant routes could be established due to the ban on the passage of economic migrants on the Macedonian-Greek border, a position Ostojic agreed with, mentioning a recently established refugee route passing through Bulgaria.

Ostojic said that illegal border crossings posed a threat to other countries on the Balkan route as well. According to information available to Croatian authorities, the current share of economic migrants in the migrant population is 6.3% and at the beginning of the refugee crisis it was around 1.6%. Since the crisis spilled over to Croatia in mid-September, 457,005 people have passed through the country and in the last 24 hours 3,060 passed through the transit centre in Slavonski Brod.

Compared to the past week, the number of transiting refugees is rising mildly but their number is still much below the average 6,500, which is how many refugees used to pass through Croatia daily.

"One of the reasons is the weather. The other is additional activity by the Turkish coast guard in light of the Brussels meeting. However, we are getting back to the previous figures," Ostojic said, adding that between midnight and 9 am on Monday, 2,016 refugees entered the country and continued their journey to Slovenia.

Ostojic said that one could not expect the new refugee regime in Turkey to start functioning fully, recalling that hotspots in Turkey were expected to stop the influx of refugees onto Greek islands. To help stop the refugee wave in Turkey, Croatia should contribute seven million euros into a joint EU fund. Ostojic conveyed Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic's position that Croatia currently could not assume that obligation because the amount in question was such that its approval would have to wait for the formation of the country's new government.

Speaking of his visits to Greece and Macedonia last week, Ostojic said that the Croatian members of the EU's joint Frontex border management teams had been commended by Greek authorities. During the visit to Macedonia, it was agreed that Macedonia would introduce a system of refugee registration that would be in line with Croatian standards, which should facilitate and improve control. Croatia will donate Macedonia the necessary equipment, Ostojic said.

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