ZAGREB : Croatian police said Thursday they seriously wounded two 12-year-old migrants from Iraq and Afghanistan after opening fire on a van which refused to stop.

The shooting occurred around 10:00 pm Wednesday (2000 GMT) when the vehicle illegally crossed the border from Bosnia, police spokesman Elis Zodan told AFP. Officers opened fire and then discovered 29 illegal migrants in the van, including the two children who were hospitalised and now in stable condition, he said. The driver of the van, which had Austrian registration plates, fled into the woods and police were searching for him, Zodan added.

Police said they twice tried to halt the van but the driver “charged the vehicle at police ... after which they opened fire,” according to the spokesman. The migrants included 15 minors in total and were “mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan, members of several families,” Zodan said.

The two injured children were hospitalised in the coastal town of Zadar and their lives were not in danger, the state-run HINA news agency reported.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic voiced regret over the incident. “It is very bad, I’m certain that an investigation will reveal how it happened,” he told reporters.

But Plenkovic voiced support for police “continuing to protect the border from people smugglers, this time from Bosnia-Herzegovina”.

EU member Croatia lies on the so-called Balkans route used in 2015 and 2016 by hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

The trail was closed in March 2016 but small numbers of people still cross the region to reach the EU.

Migrants have been seeking alternative routes including through Bosnia.

Since the start of the year nearly 5,000 migrants entered the mountainous country, the authorities said.

Their arrival is raising fears of a humanitarian and security crisis in the impoverished country.

Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary, the first EU countries on the Balkans route, were often criticised for violence against the migrants trying to pass through.

More than 80 migrants died this year as they trekked from Turkey to Slovenia, according to the Doctors Without Border (MSF) figures based on information published by local media. They died notably of drowning, cold, traffic accidents and different forms of violence, MSF Stephane Moissaing of MSF told AFP.