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Croatia considers fence to tackle migrant crisis

Croatia cannot rule out erecting a fence similar to Hungary's razor-wire barrier to manage the flow of migrants across its borders, the country's president told CNBC.

In an exclusive interview over the weekend, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic left the door open to the prospect of a physical barrier after more than 200,000 migrants crossed into the Balkan country over the past month, according to police estimates.

On Friday, Hungary's right-wing government sealed off its southern frontier with Croatia after closing off its Serbian border last month, blaming the European Union for failing to agree on a plan to the stem the flow of asylum-seekers at its summit last Thursday.

"We have to admit that every country to protect its own borders. I don't look at this [Hungary's fence] as an act against anyone. The fact of the matter is that we have been flooded with migrant flows, and it has become very difficult to manage the flow of people," Grabar-Kitarovic told CNBC.

"I would like to avoid the situation where we have to put any kind of physical barrier on the border, but I have always requested from our government a tight control of the border... I don't know about the fence, I don't exclude it as a possibility in the future."

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She pointed to the potentially damaging impact of migrant flows on Croatia's economy as justification.

"We have committed to take care of about 1,600 people... so we are willing to invest in development. But we have just started to get out of recession, our GDP (gross domestic product) growth has just become positive in the last two quarters, we still have high unemployment... As much as we would like to help all of these people, we do have our limits."

As a result of Hungary's fence, Croatia has now begun rerouting people towards Slovenia, where they are expected to continue onto Western Europe, the preferred destination for most migrants. However, Ljubljana has already rejected Croatia's bid to send 1,800 people on a train after 2,100 people entered the country on Sunday, the Associated Pressreported.

Any decision Croatia takes regarding borders will be coordinated with the rest of the European Union and determined according to migrant flows, the President said, adding that the crisis won't be ending anytime soon.

A refugee center on the Slovenia-Austria border in Gornja Radgona on October 18, 2015. This camp is on the new Balkan refugee route, after Hungary closed its borders to Croatia and people are now traveling via Slovenia to Austria and Germany.
Ales Beno | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
A refugee center on the Slovenia-Austria border in Gornja Radgona on October 18, 2015. This camp is on the new Balkan refugee route, after Hungary closed its borders to Croatia and people are now traveling via Slovenia to Austria and Germany.

More than 615,000 people have arrived in Europe via sea so far this year, according to recent United Nations data, adding to a growing number of asylum seekers. There were 626,000 asylum applications in 2014, an increase of 195,000 on the previous year, Eurostat figures show.

Germany alone is expected to see "up to 800,000 asylum applicants and refugees" arrive this year, a fourfold increase from 2014, the country's Federal Ministry of the Interior announced in August.

"We're looking at a long term-crisis, about 50-60 million people worldwide are on the move for different reasons from climate change to insecurity to poverty, and a couple of million people already in Turkey seeking a better life," Grabar-Kitarovic told CNBC, adding that Europe should take a three-pronged strategy of "the three Ds: defense, diplomacy, and development."

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"We must undertake defense measures to fight the root causes of the crisis, which are poverty, insecurity, instability, extremism, and radicalism, in the home countries of migrants to help establish peace", she explained.

Secondly, diplomatic efforts are necessary, Grabar-Kitarovic added, flagging the need to work with countries in addressing the issue of human trafficking, which is a widely cited catalyst of the current crisis.

Finally, she insisted on development efforts to create conditions for human security in emerging and frontier economies. "Around 80 percent of the people whom I met, an average day in Croatia's migrant flow, are economic migrants, not coming from Syria or Iraq but coming from elsewhere," she noted.

"The EU cannot take in all the poor people so we have to work in order to improve the conditions of life in the countries where these people are coming from so it means eradicating but also tackling inequality, academic education as well as education about tolerance and against extremism."