Hungary is voting in a referendum on accepting mandatory EU quotas for relocating refugees.
PM Viktor Orban opposes plans to relocate a total of 160,000 refugees across the bloc.
Under the EU scheme, announced after 2015 refugee crisis, Hungary would receive 1,294 asylum seekers.
Image source Wikipedia
According to opinion polls, strong support for a rejection among those who say they will vote. To be valid, turnout needs to be over 50% of voters.
During the refugee crisis, Hungary became a transit state on the Western Balkan route to Germany and other EU destinations.
In an effort to curb the influx, Hungary sealed its border with Serbia and Croatia. The measure was popular at home but criticized by human rights groups.
Voters are being asked: “Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?”
In December 2015, Hungary filed a court challenge against the EU plan, which would see relocations over two years.
In a TV interview on September 29, Viktor Orban said: “If there are more <<no>> votes than <<yes>> votes, that means Hungarians do not accept the rule which the bureaucrats of the European Commission want to forcefully impose on us.”
“The more refugees there are, the greater the risk of terror,” the right-wing prime minister added, according to excerpts published by Reuters.
The EU proposal was meant to ease pressure on Greece and Italy, the main entry points for refugees into the bloc.
Top EU delegates and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are due to visit the Turkish-Syrian border to promote a controversial month-old refugee deal.
The visit comes amid questions over the legality of the EU-Turkey pact, which deports back to Turkey refugees who do not qualify for asylum in Greece.
However, human rights groups say Turkey is not a safe place to return people.
Turkish officials have warned the deal could collapse if demands for visa-free EU travel for its citizens are not met.
The agreement says Turkey must meet 72 conditions by May 4 to earn the visa waiver, but diplomats say only half of those points have been met so far.
Angela Merkel is expected to visit a refugee camp in the southern city of Gaziantep, near the Syrian border, where she will meet Turkey’s PM Ahmet Davutoglu.
The German chancellor will travel with the European Council President, Donald Tusk, and the EU Commission Vice-President, Frans Timmermans.
Angela Merkel has faced opposition in Germany for her migration policies and has defended the deal with Turkey despite opposition from some European partners.
Her trip comes as she faces additional pressure for agreeing to the prosecution of German comedian Jan Boehmermann accused of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Advocates of freedom of speech in both Turkey and Germany have called on Angela Merkel to send out a strong message on the issue during her visit.
The goal of the EU-Turkey deal is to deter refugees, mainly Syrians and Iraqis, from making the crossing between Turkey and Greece.
Under the agreement, refugees who have arrived illegally in Greece since March 20 are expected to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected.
For each Syrian migrant returned to Turkey, the EU is due to take in another Syrian who has made a legitimate request.
The scheme has reduced sharply the number of arrivals, from more than 56,000 in February to around 7,800 over the past 30 days, according to the European Commission.
However, the International Organization of Migration said unofficial data for arrivals in Greece in recent days suggested the numbers were picking up again.
The promised relocation to EU countries seems to be slow as nations are reluctant to take in more refugees – 103 Syrians have been resettled from Turkey to Europe, the commission said.
In March 2016, EU border agency Frontex requested 1,550 extra staff to help oversee the deal, but so far only 340 police officers and experts have been sent.
Rights organizations have attacked the scheme, with Amnesty International saying that Turkey has illegally returned Syrians to their country, a charge Ankara denies.
The EU has pledged up to $6.8 billion in aid to Turkey over the next four years.
Ankara, however, expects more, including visa liberalization, a point which faces opposition of some EU members.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month: “If the European Union does not take the steps it needs to take, if it does not fulfill its pledges, then Turkey won’t implement this agreement.”
Turkey already hosts some 2.7 million Syrian refugees, at a cost of over $10 billion, the government says.
Leaders from Turkey and EU have gathered in Brussels for an emergency summit on tackling Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War Two.
The EU aims to stem the flow of refugees and plans to declare the route north through the Balkans closed.
It will press Turkey to take back economic migrants and has pledged to give Ankara €3 billion ($3.3 billion).
In 2015, more than a million people entered the EU illegally by boat, mainly going from Turkey to Greece.
Many refugees leave Greece in a bid to reach northern Europe, but eight countries have introduced temporary border controls.
Some 13,000 refugees are currently stranded in northern Greece, after Macedonia, backed by Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia, closed its border to all but a trickle of refugees.
The human cost of the migrant crisis was brought home again on Sunday when a boat capsized off Turkey with the loss of 25 lives.
EU states remain divided over their response to the crisis with strains showing this year even in Germany and Sweden, seen as the countries most open to refugees.
Anti-migrant parties won a general election in Slovakia on March 5 which saw the far right gaining seats.
The summit will be in two parts – the first session will involve Turkey, while in the second part UK Prime Minister David Cameron will join other EU leaders in seeking to reach a common approach to the crisis.
The EU is expected to ask Turkey to take back thousands of refugees who do not qualify for asylum.
In return the EU will discuss plans to resettle in Europe some refugees already in Turkey.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicated last week Turkey was ready to take back all migrants apprehended in Turkish waters.
EU leaders are also likely to raise the issue of the Zaman newspaper, the biggest opposition journal in Turkey.
On March 4, a Turkish court ordered the seizure of the Zaman, increasing fears for media freedom. Two days later it was publishing pro-government articles.
Greek ambassador to Austria has been recalled amid sharp divisions among EU states over the refugee crisis.
The move came after Austria hosted a meeting with Balkan states on the refugee issue, to which Greece was not invited.
Meanwhile, EU and Balkan interior ministers have met in Brussels to try to heal rifts over the refugee issue.
Speaking afterwards, the EU’s migration commissioner warned that the bloc’s migration system could be days away from complete breakdown.
Dimitris Avramopoulos said member states had until a March 7 summit with Turkey to curb the number of refugees.
“In the next 10 days, we need tangible and clear results on the ground,” he told reporters.
“Otherwise there is a risk that the whole system will completely break down.”
Austria, Serbia and Macedonia have taken their own steps to limit entry to refugees, angering Greece, which fears the controls will cause a bottleneck. The measures also threaten Europe’s Schengen passport-free travel area that spans 26 countries.
In a statement, the Greek foreign ministry said that the ambassador was being recalled “in order to safeguard the friendly relations between the states and the people of Greece and Austria”.
It said that problems facing the EU “cannot be dealt with, with thoughts, mentalities and extra-institutional initiatives that have their roots in the 19th Century”.
Speaking in Brussels, Greek Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas said his country would “not accept becoming Europe’s Lebanon, a warehouse of souls”.
Lebanon is home to about a million of the four million Syrians who have fled to neighboring countries.
More than one million refugees arrived in the European Union in 2015, many of them fleeing the civil war in Syria. So far this year, 100,000 refugees have entered the EU illegally – nearly all of them arriving in Greece. More than 400 have died on the sea crossing from Turkey.
The surge in migration coupled with the failure to agree an EU-wide response has led to warnings about the bloc’s survival.
On February 24, representatives from 10 Balkan states attended talks in Austria and agreed to co-ordinate action to limit the flow of refugees.
The meeting drew an angry response from Greece, with the foreign ministry warning that “responsibility for dealing with the migration and refugee crisis cannot burden one country”.
EU interior ministers meeting in Brussels on Thursday have been hearing plans drawn up by Austria and Balkan countries that seek to restrict the numbers entering their borders.
Measures include fingerprinting all entrants and turning back anyone without a passport or holding fake documents.
The countries have also pledged to accept only those they deem to be in need of protection – interpreted by some governments as meaning only Syrians and Iraqis.
Over the weekend, Macedonia barred entry to Afghans at its border with Greece. Angry protests erupted at the border crossings and Greece was forced to transport hundreds of Afghan back to Athens.
The EU has warned of a humanitarian crisis if the disagreements are not resolved.
European Council President Donald Tusk also warned that the failure to make progress towards resolving the crisis could increase the likelihood of the UK voting to leave the EU this year.
Greece has threatened to block all decisions at EU migration summits next month if member states do not agree to take in quotas of refugees.
Hungary announced on February 24 that it would hold a referendum on whether to accept mandatory EU quotas for relocating refugees.
PM Viktor Orban said the quotas “could redraw Europe’s cultural and religious identity”.
In 2015, Hungary’s right-wing government built a razor-wire fence on its borders with Serbia and Croatia to try to limit the flow of refugees.
Sweden’s Interior Minister Anders Ygeman has said that his country may reject the asylum applications of up to 80,000 refugees and should prepare to deport them.
Anders Ygeman said charter aircraft would be used to deport the refugees but it would take several years.
Some 163,000 refugees applied for asylum in Sweden in 2015, the highest per capita number in Europe.
The numbers have fallen significantly since Sweden imposed tighter border controls in 2016.
Along with Germany, Sweden is a prime destination for refugees and other refugees entering the EU illegally.
Of the approximately 58,800 asylum cases processed in Sweden in 2015, 55% were accepted.
Of those facing expulsion, Anders Ygeman was quoted in Swedish media as saying: “We are talking about 60,000 people but the number could climb to 80,000.”
He later tweeted to say he had not taken a position on how many refugees had grounds for asylum, it being a matter for the authorities and the courts.
Sweden earlier this week became the latest of a number of European nations to see tensions over migrants heightened by violence. A 15-year-old asylum seeker was arrested in Molndal, near Gothenburg, after a 22-year-old asylum centre employee was stabbed to death.
More than one million refugees and migrants travelled to Europe in 2015, most fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The UN says another 46,000 people have arrived in Greece so far this year, with more than 170 killed making the dangerous crossing from Turkey.
In the latest such accident, at least 11 migrants drowned – mostly children – after their boat capsized off the island of Samos, the Greek coast guard says. Several are still missing.
On January 27, a draft European Commission report said Greece “seriously neglected” its obligations to control the external frontier of Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone.
Greek government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili accused the Commission of “blame games” and said it had failed to act on a program agreed in 2015 to relocate tens of thousands of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece.
Denmark has also faced criticism this week after approving legislation to seize the valuables of refugees in the hope of limiting the influx of migrants.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced tougher refugee laws after the New Year’s Eve attacks on women in Cologne.
Angela Merkel has proposed changes to make it easier to deport asylum-seekers who commit crimes on German territory.
The attacks, which victims say were carried out by men of North African and Arab appearance, have called into question the German chancellor’s open-door migrant policy.
The police’s handling of the events has also been sharply criticized.
The anti-immigrant Pegida movement is due to protest in Cologne.
Angela Merkel, speaking after a meeting of her Christian Democrat party leadership in Mainz, proposed tightening the law on denying the right of asylum for those who have committed crimes.
Under the new plans, those on probation could be deported too.
“When crimes are committed, and people place themselves outside the law…there must be consequences,” Angela Merkel told reporters after the meeting.
Under current German laws, asylum seekers are only forcibly sent back if they have been sentenced to at least three years, and providing their lives are not at risk in their countries of origin.
The move, which will still need parliamentary approval, follows the New Year’s Eve attacks, which sparked outrage in Germany.
Victims described chaos as dozens of assaults and robberies were carried out with little apparent response from the authorities around the city’s main station.
Twenty-one people are being investigated for assault.
The identification of the attackers in Cologne as North African or Arab in appearance has caused alarm in Germany because of the influx of more than a million refugees in 2015.
Meanwhile German officials have warned that anti-immigrant groups have been trying to use the attacks to stir up hatred.
Similar attacks to those seen in Cologne were also reported in Hamburg and in Stuttgart on New Year’s Eve. In Bielefeld, hundreds of men tried to force their way into nightclubs Die Welt reports.
Police said several women had alleged assault.
As the investigation into the Cologne attacks continues, federal authorities say they have identified 18 asylum-seekers among 31 suspects. However, they are suspected of theft and violence, but not assault.
The suspects include nine Algerians, eight Moroccans, five Iranians, four Syrians, two Germans and one each from Iraq, Serbia and the United States.
Separately to the federal investigation focusing on what happened at the station itself, Cologne police are investigating 21 people in connection with the assaults. It is not known how many of these are asylum-seekers.
The North Rhine-Westphalia state police have recorded 170 complaints of crimes, 117 of which involve assault. There were two allegations of rape.
The interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Ralf Jaeger said on January 8 that he had suspended police chief Wolfgang Albers from his duties.
Wolfgang Albers has been accused of holding back information about the attacks, in particular about the origin of the suspects.
Denmark has decided to tighten its border controls with Germany, hours after Sweden imposed similar measures to deter refugees entering from Denmark.
Danish PM Lars Lokke Rasmussen said the decision was “not a happy moment” but Denmark “must respond” to Sweden’s restrictions.
Danish police will carry out border spot checks for the next 10 days.
The two countries are the latest to impose controls in Europe’s Schengen passport-free travel area.
In a letter to the European Commission, Inger Stojberg, Denmark’s integration minister, said the controls would focus initially on the border with Germany but may be extended to all of Denmark’s borders.
Inger Stojberg said the measures taken by Sweden meant Denmark was “faced with a serious risk to public order and internal security because a very large number of illegal immigrants may be stranded in the Copenhagen area”.
The new controls would not cause a problem for “ordinary” Danes and Germans, Lokke Rasmussen said.
“We are introducing temporary border controls, but in a balanced way,” the prime minister said.
“If the European Union cannot protect the external border you will see more and more countries forced to introduce temporary border controls.”
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the number of refugees crossing into Europe by land and sea this year illegally has passed one million.
This represents a fourfold rise on the total last year.
Most of the refugees crossed by sea – with more than 800,000 traveling from Turkey to Greece. Half are refugees from Syria.
Eleven more migrants drowned on December 22, adding to the IOM toll of 3,695 dying or missing at sea.
Seven people were rescued by Turkish coast guards after the craft went down, apparently en route from Kusadasi in Turkey to the Greek island of Samos. One report said the dead were Syrians.
The huge influx of refugees has caused significant political rifts within the EU, with some states inside the border-free Schengen area putting up fences and reimposing frontier controls.
Hungary and Slovakia are taking legal action at the European Court of Justice to challenge EU plans to share asylum seekers across EU states.
Meanwhile, many refugees are pressing to be allowed to settle in richer northern countries like Germany and Sweden.
According to the IOM, migration passed the symbolic milestone on December 21, with the total for land and sea reaching more than 1,006,000.
Entries via six EU nations – Greece, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Malta and Cyprus – are covered in the report.
The IOM report found among other things that:
Half of the refugees crossing the Mediterranean were from Syria, 20% were from Afghanistan and 7% from Iraq;
Most of the refugees who died – 2,889 – were making the sea crossing between North Africa and Italy, while more than 700 died in the Aegean crossing to Greece from Turkey;
Only 3.5% of migrants made a land journey to Greece or Bulgaria via Turkey.
The IOM gathers its statistics from registrations, law enforcement agencies and its own monitors.
IOM Director General William Lacy Swing said it was not enough to just count the figures.
“We must also act,” he said.
“Migration must be legal, safe and secure for all – both for the migrants themselves and the countries that will become their new home.”
A joint IOM and UNHCR statement said found a “more co-ordinated European response” was beginning to take shape.
However, it said more needed to be done to improve reception facilities, accommodation and registration, and to identify those who do and do not qualify for refugee protection.
Save the Children campaigns director Kirsty McNeill said: “This is the test of our European ideal. When children are dying on our doorstep we need to take bolder action. There can be no bigger priority.”
The EU last week agreed to increase the numbers of Frontex border agency staff in Greece, a key arrival point.
Germany alone has received a million refugees and migrants this year, although many were already within Europe, particularly in the Balkans.
Macedonia is now refusing to allow anyone through its Greek border who does not come from a war zone.
A UN report also last week warned that the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide would “far surpass” 60 million this year.
Sweden’s trains to and from Denmark will be canceled starting with January 4, 2016, over ID checks.
The state-owned train operator SJ will stop services because it cannot carry out ID checks demanded by the government to stem the influx of refugees.
Under a new Swedish law, transport companies will be fined if travelers to Sweden do not have valid photo ID.
SJ said it would not have time to check people traveling between Copenhagen and Malmo over the Oresund bridge.
Sweden has already received about 150,000 asylum applications in 2015.
The government has secured a temporary exemption from the EU’s open-border Schengen agreement, in order to impose border controls.
About 18,000 people commute to work daily across the Oresund bridge, Radio Sweden reports.
SJ said all services between Denmark and Sweden would be suspended from January 4 when the new law comes into force.
“Our planning of the introduction of ID border checks in Copenhagen before the departure of SJ trains bound for Sweden has shown that we are currently unable to carry out ID checks in accordance with the requirements of the new law in the amount of time allowed,” the company said on its website.
SJ added it had chosen to “cancel its departures until there is a working solution in place”.
Oresundstag, another train operator which runs a Sweden-Denmark commuter service, said it would remain in operation after January 4, but scale back rush-hour traffic to allow time for the checks, according to reports.
One million migrants have arrived in Europe by land or sea in 2015, the International Organization for Migration says.
Along with Germany, Sweden is one of the main destinations of choice – with some 150,000 applying for asylum in 2015.
In contrast, Denmark expects to receive about 20,000 asylum seekers in 2015.
Last week a Danish government proposal to seize asylum seekers’ valuables to make them pay for their stay drew sharp criticism in international media.
Greece has been threatened with Schengen suspension if the EU country fails to improve conditions for refugees, reports say.
EU officials accuse Greece of refusing to accept help in accepting more refugees. Greece would become the first country to be suspended since passport-free travel was established in 1985.
More than 740,000 people have arrived on the shores of Greece in 2015 before moving north across Europe.
A top EU official has warned that children are dying on Greek beaches because of a lack of medical help.
There is also anger that Greece has been slow to let in EU experts and improve its registration of refugees.
The influx of refugees across countries with few border restrictions has alarmed European leaders and raised doubts about the very future of the 1985 Schengen accord.
According to the Financial Times, Greece has been repeatedly warned this week that it could be suspended from the 26-member zone if it fails to take action before an EU leaders’ summit in mid-December.
Separately, unnamed officials in Brussels have said that a suspension has been discussed in recent days in an attempt to persuade the Athens government to improve its handling of migrants and refugees.
Greece is not only struggling to cope with the numbers of people arriving on the islands closest to Turkey such as Lesbos, but thousands of people are camped on the northern border with Macedonia, which has erected a fence to stop people crossing.
Greece’s EU partners are frustrated that the Athens government has been slow to accept offers of help from the border agency, Frontex, to better manage its sea border. The offer is particularly sensitive in Greece because of concerns over its national sovereignty.
While suspension from the Schengen accord would directly affect Greeks travelling to the 25 other members of the passport-free zone, it is unclear what effect it would have on the refugee crisis.
None of the Balkan countries on the refugee route between Greece and Hungary are part of Schengen.
Greek businesses are becoming increasingly concerned by the crisis on the Macedonian border because protests on the railway line have halted rail traffic.
Croatians are voting in the country’s first parliamentary elections since joining the EU.
The ruling center-left coalition faces a challenge to stay in power, with the refugee crisis one of the main issues facing voters on November 8.
Polls before the election indicate the government and the conservative opposition are neck-and-neck.
Both coalitions promise different approaches on how to handle the arrival of more refugees and migrants.
Croatia has become a transit hub for migrants, many from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, who want to travel north.
Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said this week that 320,000 migrants had passed through the country so far this year.
Photo Total Croatia News
The cost of managing the arrivals was close to 2 million kuna ($284,000) a day, he said.
Numbers increased when Hungary shut its border with Serbia, forcing more people to seek an alternative route north through Croatia.
PM Zoran Milanovic and his Social Democrats (SDP) have won approval for their compassionate handling of the refugee crisis.
The leader of the opposition HDZ party, Tomislav Karamarko, has suggested using troops and fences to reduce the number of arrivals.
As well as the migrant crisis, Croatia’s next government will be faced with a weak economy: unemployment is at 15.4% – the third-highest in the EU, after Greece and Spain; youth unemployment is at 43.1% – also the third-highest in the EU.
Croatia has suffered six years of recession, but has seen little growth this year.
Neither of the two main parties is expected to gain a majority in the 151-seat parliament, meaning a coalition is likely to be necessary.
The election is Croatia’s first since it joined the EU in 2013.
According to the European Commission, 3 million refugees are likely to arrive in Europe by 2017 as the record influx via the Mediterranean continues.
The EU’s executive arm said the influx would have a “small but positive” effect on EU economic output, raising GDP by 0.2-0.3%.
The influx will raise the EU population by 0.4%, the Commission forecasts, taking account of failed asylum claims.
The flow of Syrian refugees to Europe shows no sign of abating, the UN says.
The weather in the Aegean Sea has got rougher with the onset of winter.
Conflicts and abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Somalia are also pushing people towards Europe.
The flow of refugees and other migrants from Turkey to Greece is expected to continue at a rate of 5,000 daily this winter, the UN refugee agency UNHCR says.
Delivering the EU’s autumn economic forecast, EU Economic Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said extra public spending and the extra labor supply from recognized refugees would lead to a small GDP rise in the EU as a whole.
However, the Commission cautioned that “the uncertainty surrounding the influx thus far and its future development is substantial”.
The Commission said the figure of three million was an assumption rather than a prediction and included those who had already arrived in 2015.
UN refugee officials say more than 750,000 refugees have arrived in the EU by sea this year, up from 282,000 in total in 2014.
The vast majority have arrived in Greece (608,000), which has become the most common destination. Some 140,000 have arrived in Italy in 2015.
Most of the refugees head for Germany, hoping to get asylum there. German officials say their country is likely to host at least 800,000 new refugees this year, and the total could reach 1.5 million.
Sweden has the highest share of refugees per head of population in the EU. The extra cost in public spending is likely to be nearly 0.5% of GDP this year, the Commission says, adding that “the corresponding positive effects on growth would be somewhat smaller”.
At least twenty two refugees have drowned trying to reach Kalymnos and Rhodes from Turkey, in the second major boat tragedy off Greek islands this week.
Greek officials said 19 people died and 138 were rescued near Kalymnos.
Three others died off Rhodes and three were missing. Six were rescued there.
Greece’s PM Alexis Tsipras said he felt “shame” over “the inability of Europe to deal effectively with this human drama”.
Speaking in parliament, the left-wing Syriza leader condemned the “level of debate at a senior level, where one is passing the buck to the other” in the EU.
“Crocodile tears are being shed for the dead children on the shores of the Aegean, because dead children always arouse sorrow, but what about the children that are alive who come in thousands and are packed on the refugee trail? Nobody cares for them,” Alexis Tsipras added.
Meanwhile, rescuers in southern Spain are searching for 35 refugees missing after their boat broke up on its way from Morocco. Four bodies have been found.
The unseaworthy, overcrowded boat set off from Alhucemas. Fifteen refugees were rescued.
In recent months the main migrant influx has been to the Greek holiday islands lying off Turkey’s Aegean coast.
In this week’s previous sinking in the Aegean, Greek authorities confirmed the deaths of 16 refugees off Lesbos after their boat broke up in rough seas late on October 28. Rescuers managed to save 274 people.
Thousands have been arriving on Lesbos every day after making the dangerous journey from Turkey. People traffickers usually pack them onto unseaworthy boats, often inflatable dinghies.
The UN estimates that more than 700,000 refugees have crossed to Europe by boat so far this year – many of them refugees from war-torn Syria. The approach of winter has so far done little to slow the flow.
The EU is deploying its Frontex border force to new “hotspots” – refugee reception centers in Greece and Italy where local officials are overwhelmed by the numbers. Frontex aims to help speed up the registration of refugees.
The Czech Republic is accused of “systematic” rights violations in their treatment of refugees and migrants.
According to the UN’s human rights chief, Czech authorities were holding refugees in “degrading” conditions for up to 90 days.
Zeid Raad Al Hussein said refugees had been strip-searched to find money to pay for their detention, and protested about “Islamophobic” statements by Czech President Milos Zeman.
Milos Zeman’s spokesman said the president “stood by his opinions”.
While other European countries had implemented policies to restrict the movement of refugees, the Czech Republic was “unique” in its routine detention of migrants for long periods, Zeid Raad Al Hussein said in a statement.
He said the measures taken appeared to be “designed to deter migrants and refugees from entering the country or staying there”.
Zeid Raad Al Hussein said one detention facility in Beza-Jezova has been described as “worse than a prison” by the Czech justice minister.
The UN rights chief added that he was alarmed by the “xenophobic public discourse” accompanying Czech government policy.
Milos Zeman frequently courts controversy with Islamophobic remarks.
While visiting a butcher shop on a recent visit to southeast Moravia, Milos Zeman told reporters that Muslim refugees would not respect Czech laws and customs.
Milos Zeman said that on the contrary, they would stone women to death for adultery and cut thieves’ hands off.
The president’s spokesman said the UN’s criticism of Milos Zeman was part of an intensifying campaign against the Czech Republic over its stand on the refugee crisis.
Slovenia has opened its borders for most of the 5,000 refugees who were stranded in wet and muddy conditions on its border with Croatia on October 19.
The country had previously vowed to take in only 2,500 refugees per day.
Croatia has also opened its border with Serbia, where thousands more migrants are trying to reach northern Europe.
Aid agencies have been warning of dire conditions as bottlenecks develop at border crossings in the Balkans.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees, many from Syria, Africa and Afghanistan, have been making their way from Turkey to the Balkans in recent months, in a bid to reach Germany, Sweden and other EU states.
On Monday evening, Germany saw large rival rallies in Dresden to mark the first anniversary of the anti-immigrant group Pegida.
The protests come amid fears the group is becoming more radical in response to Germany’s decision to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees this year.
Croatia and Slovenia appeared to ease restrictions on the flow of migrants late on October 19, after thousands of people were stranded for hours in wet, cold and windy conditions.
Both countries imposed stricter controls at the weekend after Hungary, citing security concerns, closed its southern border and forced migrants to switch to a slower route via Slovenia.
Slovenia’s interior ministry said on October 19 that some 5,000 refugees were allowed to enter from Croatia, and 900 of them had already travelled onwards to Austria by the evening.
Slovenia earlier criticized Croatia for allowing large groups of refugees over the border, and breaking an agreement to limit such transfers to 2,500 people a day.
Meanwhile, Croatia decided to open its border late on Monday, after aid workers warned of “dire” conditions for another 3,000 refugees stuck in cold and wet weather without shelter on the Serbia-Croatia frontier.
Croatian buses transported the thousands of refugees to a nearby reception centre.
Croatia’s PM Zoran MIlanovic said his government had hoped to stem the flow of people but poor conditions on the Serbian side of the border had forced them to let the migrants through.
“It’s apparent that this is no solution, so we will let them through. We will send them toward Slovenia,” he said.
Before Monday’s mass crossing, the UNHCR said 10,000 refugees were stranded in Serbia – with more than 6,000 entering from Macedonia on Monday alone.
Some Serbian officials have also indicated they may in turn hold back arrivals from the south.
More than 600,000 refugees, most of them Syrians, have reached Europe so far this year compared with just over 200,000 for the whole of 2014
Germany has said it expects 800,000 asylum seekers this year, but it is believed the number could be as high as 1.5 million.
Scuffles broke out during protests in Dresden on October 19, as 20,000 Pegida supporters confronted a similar number of counter demonstrators amid an angry backlash over Germany’s open-door policy towards refugees.
Thousands of refugees have been stranded at borders in the Balkans, in cold and wet conditions, after Hungary closed its borders with Croatia.
Several hundred, including young children and babies, spent the night in the open at Croatia’s border with Slovenia.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) also complained of a lack of basic supplies at the Serbia-Croatia border.
The western Balkan route has been disrupted by government restrictions.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees, many from Syria, Africa and Afghanistan, have been making their way from Turkey to the Balkans in recent months, in a bid to reach Germany, Sweden and other EU states.
Slovenia decided at the weekend to restrict the numbers crossing its territory in response to what it said was Austria’s new policy of cutting the numbers entering – something Austria denies.
More than 10,000 refugees are now stranded in Serbia, barred from entering Croatia, according the UNHCR.
“There is a lack of food, lack of blankets – we are missing everything,” spokeswoman Melita Sunjic told Reuters.
On the Croatia-Slovenia border, 500 people spent the night in the open at Trnovec. Police have now allowed them to shelter under canopies attached to immigration huts.
A further 1,800-2,000 slept on a train held on the Croatian side of the border.
Officials told them they could stay temporarily in Croatia or try to make their own way into Slovenia.
Croatia had asked its northern neighbor Slovenia to accept 5,000 refugees daily, but Slovenia said it would only take half that number.
Explaining Slovenia’s new restrictions on October 18, Interior Ministry State Secretary Bostjan Sefic said its northern neighbor Austria was only accepting a maximum of 1,500 people a day.
He said that Slovenia “cannot accept unlimited numbers of migrants if we know that they cannot continue their journey”.
Hungary, citing security concerns, has closed its borders with Serbia and Croatia, forcing refugees to switch to a slower route via Slovenia.
There are reports in Slovenian media that restrictions on its borders with Austria and Croatia are being eased.
Germany’s welcome for Syrian refugees continues to create internal political tensions.
The Pegida organization, which campaigns against immigration, says it expects tens of thousands to demonstrate in the eastern city of Dresden on October 19.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has described Pegida as “hard-right extremists”.
More than 600,000 people, most of them Syrians, have reached Europe so far this year compared with just over 200,000 for the whole of 2014.
Germany has said it expects 800,000 asylum seekers in 2015, but it is believed the number could be as high as 1.5 million.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that all EU countries must be prepared to send security staff to the bloc’s external borders.
Speaking as she arrived at an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels, Angela Merkel said it would be unfair to ask EU countries seeing the majority of initial refugee entries to secure borders as well.
The meeting aims to secure Turkey’s agreement to a plan to halt the flow of refugees trying to reach Europe.
Nearly 600,000 refugees have reached the EU by sea so far this year.
Describing the current situation as “very disorderly”, Angela Merkel said: “It’s quite obvious that only a few countries today take the majority of refugees and if these countries now are asked to secure the external borders on top of that, I don’t think it would be what we could call a fair distribution of effort.”
The summit aims to tackle the migration crisis by working with non-EU countries, protecting the EU’s external borders and ensuring some migrants are sent back.
Estonian PM Taavi Roivas said immediate action was needed to preserve the EU’s borderless Schengen area, which has come under increasing pressure, with some states reintroducing controls to prevent migrants from crossing borders.
Meanwhile Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban said his country would decide whether to close its border with Croatia by October 16.
Hungarian state TV reported Viktor Orban as saying he would prefer the EU to defend its external border in Greece but could seal its Croatian border “within an hour if necessary”.
There were also calls for member states to address the causes of migration by providing more money for Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and for development in Africa.
“Member states need to put their money where their mouth is,” said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
Meanwhile, EU negotiators in Ankara are making “good progress” in talks with Turkish officials, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.
Turkey is hosting some two million refugees, most of them fleeing the war in neighboring Syria.
It has also called for the establishment of an international “safe zone” for refugees inside northern Syria.
The 28 EU leaders meeting in Brussels are hoping the Turkish government will sign up to a joint action plan that includes: greater financial and procedural support for Turkey to deal with refugees; gaining permission from Turkey to help patrol its coastline; combating people smuggling; strengthening return operations.
Turkey is expected to press for progress towards visa-free travel for its citizens to European countries within the so-called Schengen area.
About two million people have fled to Turkey in more than four years of conflict in Syria. Every week thousands seek to enter the EU – typically via Greece – with many heading towards northern Europe.
Germany accepted the largest number of asylum claims in 2014 and expects to see as many as 800,000 in 2015. Sweden had the second-highest number of asylum seekers.