Tiny Slovenia Prepares for an Influx of Refugees

In just a matter of days, the small former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia has been propelled into the center of Europe's refugee crisis.

The closure of Hungary's southern border with Serbia on Tuesday has forced thousands of refugees to consider new routes to their desired destinations, such as Germany and other northern European countries. Many have moved eastwards to Croatia, with more than 7,300 refugees entering the country since Wednesday. Most refugees are expected to keep moving northwards and seek to cross Croatia's 415-mile border with Slovenia, with the Slovenian Red Cross saying on Thursday that it expects 5,000 refugees to enter the country in the coming days.

Slovenia is taking steps to prepare for an influx. On Wednesday, the Central European state informed the European Commission that it was reintroducing border controls along its eastern border with Hungary for 10 days. Slovenian Police Commissioner Marjan Fank also said that presence of police at the Croatian border would likely be increased to deal with the expected increase in refugees attempting to cross. The Slovenian border with Croatia forms part of the external border of Europe's Schengen area—a 26 country bloc wherein European citizens can move freely without need for passports.

Slovenia is a small country with a population of less than two million and a total area of 20,273 square kilometers, making it smaller than the state of New Jersey, the fifth-smallest state in the U.S. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, Slovenia had just 257 refugees and 69 asylum seekers residing in the country as of December 2014. There is just one asylum processing center in Slovenia, located in the capital Ljubljana. It is designed to house a maximum of 203 people. Vesna Mitric, a spokesperson for the Slovenian Ministry of the Interior, told Newsweek that further asylum facilities had been put up in Ljubljana, the Italian border region of Ankaran, and the central Slovenian towns of Logatec and Postojna.

Even with these additional facilities, Mitric says Slovenia could only accommodate approximately 600 refugees applying for asylum in the country. Slovenia's Interior Ministry have previously said they are preparing to accommodate "several thousand" refugees and that "capacities are being increased daily," AFP reported.

However, Interior Minister Vesna Gyorkos Znidar has said the country would be enforcing EU rules and would process all asylum applications of refugees who entered the country and had not been registered elsewhere. This means that if even a tenth of the refugees who have so far entered Croatia do make their way to Slovenia and request asylum the country's facilities would be stretched to breaking point.

Magdalena Majkowska-Tomkin, project manager at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) office in Budapest—which oversees Slovenia—says that with the closure of Hungary's border with Serbia, refugees arriving in Europe would likely see the Croatia-Slovenia route as the most logical way into northern Europe. She says that Slovenia would struggle to cope if refugees attempt to enter the country in the same numbers as they did in Hungary. "The reception capacity is very small," say Majkowska-Tomkin. "So if migrants were to stay for any considerable [period] of time in Slovenia, that would pose a big question as to what would happen."