German police in Serbia to try to stem migrant exodus to EU

AP News
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Posted: Feb 13, 2015 1:53 PM
German police in Serbia to try to stem migrant exodus to EU

SUBOTICA, Serbia (AP) — German police officers equipped with thermal vision cameras joined Serbian security forces Friday on Serbia's border with Hungary in a bid to halt a torrent of migrants that has alarmed many European Union countries.

Tens of thousands of immigrants — mostly Kosovo Albanians but also Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and others — have passed through Serbia and into European Union member Hungary, a gateway into the 28-nation bloc.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his country needs new, tougher rules allowing for the detention and expulsion of illegal migrants, otherwise Hungary would "turn into a refugee camp."

Germany's Interior Ministry said the deployment of about 20 German police to beef up Serbia's border security was designed to "ensure the long-term stability of Kosovo and the whole region."

Hungary began to experience a tide of Kosovars shortly after the EU sponsored a 2014 free-travel agreement that allowed Kosovars to travel freely into Serbia. Kosovo Albanians waged a NATO-backed war of independence from Serbia in 1999 and declared independence in 2008. Kosovo remains one of the continent's poorest nations.

Officials in Kosovo estimate at least 100,000 Kosovars have emigrated since August. Hungarian authorities say about 23,200 migrants already have been detained in Hungary this year, compared to 43,000 in all of 2014 and just 2,157 in 2013.

A Serbian border police commander, Nenad Sekulic, said the 20-strong German detachment was sufficient to ensure better detection of people crossing the border surreptitiously.

However, an EU agency called Frontex that oversees cooperation among European border agencies says it also plans to deploy its own officials soon to improve security on the Hungary-Serbia border.

Once migrants reach Hungary, many travel to richer members such as Germany, Austria, France and Sweden before seeking asylum.

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Associated Press reporters Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary, contributed to this report.