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Migrants At Croatian Border Contend With Rain, Lack Of Shelter

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's get one data point now, the news from one spot along the path of migrants from the Middle East through Europe. It's a changing path. And we're going to go to the latest border to attract the world's attention. It's the border between Croatia and Slovenia in Europe. Reporter Lauren Frayer is on that border. And Lauren, why that spot?

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Well, migrants used to come up through Serbia and cross Hungary directly to Austria and then Germany. But Hungary has closed its southern borders. And so what's happened is that migrants are forced to go out of their way, hundreds of miles westward, and create a new corridor toward northern Europe, now through Croatia and Slovenia.

INSKEEP: OK, so people are being channeled into this new route, and you are along that new route. What are you seeing there?

FRAYER: Well, I'm standing next to a huge canvas military tent here, lined with beds and wool blankets. Thousands of migrants briefly slept here last night before boarding buses through Slovenia and into Austria. And aid workers and police now are scrambling to ready the station for a new batch of people headed this way. Right now there's been a break in the pouring rain. But the dark clouds are still looking pretty ominous overhead. Garbage crews are shoveling out huge piles of donated clothes, tents, blankets that are all caked in mud that migrants left behind when they boarded buses into Slovenia. I just saw a single tiny pink shoe being crunched into the back of a garbage truck, likely left behind by a child who had to rush quickly to get across the border.

INSKEEP: Oh, meaning the buses are so crowded that people can't even take their supplies with them.

FRAYER: That's right. Because the detention centers are so full, people are sleeping outdoors. And aid groups have come and piled up supplies - you know, clothes and tents - that the migrants often then leave behind as they move on.

INSKEEP: So I'm trying to imagine the map of Europe. Hungary has become an obstacle. People are being channeled around it. They end up going through several other countries and end up in Slovenia. How is the government of Slovenia responding to this?

FRAYER: Well, Slovenia has a population of only 2 million people. It says it can't handle the volume that other countries can. So it set this quota of 2,500 people a day that are allowed to enter Slovenia. The problem is that Croatia is sending a lot more than that, several thousands a day, to the Slovenian border. Croatia's absorbing them from Serbia, trying to move them on quickly. And last night, Slovenia literally closed the fence on thousands of people right here gathered on this border because it had already accepted 2,500 for the day. Finally, after hours in the rain, Slovenia broke its own rule and let them in. Slovenia says it accepted 8,000 people yesterday altogether.

INSKEEP: How cold is it?

FRAYER: It's pretty cold, especially in the pouring rain. I mean, you've got people - aid groups are handing out thin little plastic ponchos. But you know, I'm standing here holding a microphone with my bare hands, and it's pretty cold.

INSKEEP: Well, why is Slovenia, the country that's becoming this new bottleneck, not just passing on people to the next country?

FRAYER: Well, there's pressure to avoid a humanitarian crisis, so a backup of people without enough shelter and food. There's pressure to move them on. But there's also pressure from neighboring countries not to divert the crisis to them. Slovenia is a relatively rich country compared to others in the Balkans, but it's also the smallest. It's also under tremendous pressure from Austria to the north. You know, of those 8,000 people Slovenia accepted yesterday, Austria only let in 2,000. And overnight, by the way, while migrants were waiting out here in the rain, Slovenia's government held an emergency meeting. And Parliament is expected today to approve a law allowing the military to deploy on this border. Slovenia's hoping the military can somehow expedite these border crossings. And Slovenia's also hoping that Austria keeps that border open.

INSKEEP: OK, Lauren, thanks very much.

FRAYER: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's reporter Lauren Frayer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.