ASOTTHALOM, Hungary (AP) — A new fence, electronic surveillance equipment and a paved road for police "border hunters" are all part of Hungary's continuing efforts to stop the flow of migrants and refugees from the Middle East, Asia and Africa at its southern borders.
The government has not yet announced a timetable for the reinforced border projects, but the mayor of Asotthalom, a village on the Serbian border, said the fence built last year had already made a difference.
"Order has been practically restored in the village, which is a big achievement since migration had been causing problems for years," said Laszlo Toroczkai, recently elected as a vice-chairman of the far-right Jobbik party. "It was most unbearable in 2015, when thousands of migrants a day were marching through our village, but already from September 2014 hundreds of illegal migrants a day were arriving here."
Hungary's fences, its anti-migrant political campaigns and its grudging treatment of refugees have been harshly criticized by the United Nations' refugee agency and other rights organizations. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, however, remains unapologetic about his "self-defensive" migration policies and his opposition to greater acceptance of refugees.
Nearly 400,000 people passed through Hungary last year, aiming to reach Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and other richer destinations in the European Union.
Since fences protected with razor wire were completed on the border with Serbia in mid-September 2015 and on the Croatian border a month later, the number of migrants entering Hungary dropped from an average of 100 a day in the first half of 2016 to around a daily dozen in the past weeks.
Toroczkai set up a group of armed rangers to patrol the border and detain migrants long before migration through the Balkans gained national and international attention. He believes the upgraded infrastructure would increase the effectiveness of the barrier.
Migrants "cut through the fence with tools and assistance from the Serbian human traffickers," Toroczkai said in an interview. "They will be confronted with a new, apparently much stronger fence which will take even longer to cut through, during which time the patrols will be able to quickly get there on the paved road and capture the trespassers."
Announcing the new fence plan, Orban said last month that it would be strong enough to stop even large surges of people if, for example, Turkey allows the millions of refugees there to leave for Western Europe.
"If we can't do it nicely, we have to hold them back by force," Orban said. "And we will do it, too."
Among the Asotthalom villagers, many of whom complained last year that migrants were damaging their crops as they hiked toward Budapest, there were mixed views about the fence.
"If they come, they can still cut through," said Norbert Farkas, a younger, unemployed Asotthalom resident. "Maybe the solution would be if they'd just let them go wherever they want."
Pensioner Rozalia Kovacs, however, wants the migrants stopped.
"We're already too many here," she said. "I don't mistreat them because they don't hurt me either. It's only that there's already too many of us here."
Gorondi reported from Budapest, Hungary.