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Croatia Struggles To Respond To New Influx Of Migrants

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

After Hungary closed its border with Serbia, migrants searching for a new route into the European Union are heading west into Croatia. Its western frontier with Serbia had suddenly become a makeshift refugee camp, and today, thousands of people broke through police lines there. Lauren Frayer sent this report from the Croatia-Serbia border.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: At first, refugees rest in the shade near a train line just inside Croatian territory. Police tell them to stay behind a chest-high chain-link fence until buses arrive one-by-one to take them to the capital, Zagreb.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: But not enough buses come, and people are streaming in from Serbia by the thousands.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Today? We have children.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Small baby - no food, no water. No - too much hot. What we doing sit here?

FRAYER: Police allow some children to crawl through holes in the fence. Women get separated from their kids.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: My son.

FRAYER: And the temperature hits 90.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Where is the train? Where is the bus? We will die in here - babies.

FRAYER: Nour Abdullah from Iraq slept here last night with her whole family.

NOUR ABDULLAH: My husband, my brother, my son, my uncle.

FRAYER: They clutch each other as they're pressed up against the fence. A Croatian police officer's voice shakes with his own emotion as he tries to keep them calm.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I understand. We do what we can. We are not magicians. Please wait.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Shouting in foreign language).

FRAYER: But the crowd cannot wait. They break through the fence, scrambling over one another. Thousands of people start running into Croatia.

The Croatian police are overwhelmed, but they step aside and don't resort to tear gas or water cannon like Hungarian forces did on their border yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Shouting in foreign language).

FRAYER: An older man's face turns white and he falls to the ground. His wife wails over him. Someone starts CPR.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Shouting in Foreign language).

FRAYER: Croatia's interior minister, Ranko Ostojic, arrives. Reporters yell questions. What will Croatia do with all these people?

RANKO OSTOJIC: They will be arrested by police, and they will be bring to the reception centers.

FRAYER: That's a reversal from just 24 hours ago when Croatia said it would provide safe passage for all. For now, the crowd fans out into farm fields. There aren't enough police here to arrest them. But there's another danger - 50 thousand unexploded land mines left in this region from the 1990s Balkan Wars. Zidan Tami, a Kurdish refugee, says he'd never heard of the country Croatia until today.

ZIDAN TAMI: We were in the Hungarian border, and they said it's all completely closed. So we don't have any choice, so they gave us a map - another way from this country. And after that, Slovenia and Austria and...

FRAYER: He says he'll follow that map as far as he can.

TAMI: I'm worried and maybe happy, maybe scared from the unknown future - everything.

FRAYER: Even if he makes it through Croatia, there are three more borders to cross before he reaches Germany. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Tovarnik, on the Croatia-Serbia border. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.