Hungary's border fence proves futile in slowing migrant flow

AP News
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Posted: Aug 26, 2015 3:02 PM
Hungary's border fence proves futile in slowing migrant flow

ROSZKE, Hungary (AP) — Clambering over the razor-wire fence or crawling under it, migrants surged Wednesday across the Serbian border into Hungary. Then they jostled to formally enter the country so they could quickly leave it, heading toward more prosperous European Union nations on a desperate quest to escape war and poverty.

In Roszke, a Hungarian border town, police used tear gas to break up a brief scuffle involving about 200 migrants requesting asylum, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Police said the migrants were growing impatient with registration delays.

So far the Hungarian border fence — which is being hastily built to keep the migrants out — consists of three layers of razor wire along the country's 174-kilometer (109-mile) border with Serbia. But it's hardly a formidable barrier.

One group of migrants, including women and children, crawled under it Wednesday, using blankets, sleeping bags, jackets and a stick to raise the wire. As a police car approached, they dashed through a field.

"(It's been) very, very difficult," Odei, a Syrian migrant from Daraa, said once he reached Hungary. "We were here from yesterday. We are very hungry. There's no food, there's no medicine for the children, there's nothing. We are so tired."

These migrants are following the Balkans route, from Turkey to Greece by sea, up north to Macedonia by bus or foot, by train through Serbia and then walking the last few miles into EU member Hungary. That avoids the more dangerous Mediterranean Sea route from North Africa to Italy, where dozens of bodies were found Wednesday in the hull of a smugglers' boat that was rescued off Libya's northern coast.

Once inside the 28-nation EU, most migrants seek to reach richer nations such as Germany, The Netherlands or Sweden.

In Germany, however, far-right protesters booed and jeered Chancellor Angela Merkel as she visited an asylum center Wednesday in the eastern town of Heidenau that was the scene of weekend riots. Merkel urged Germans to stand up against hatred and vowed zero tolerance for attacks against refugees.

"It's shameful and repulsive what we experienced here," Merkel said.

Over 10,000 migrants, including many women with babies and small children, have crossed into Serbia over the past few days and headed toward Hungary.

On the Serbian side of the border, groups of migrants were camping or strolling along the Hungarian fence Wednesday, looking for ways to beat it. An old blanket was thrown over it at one spot to cover the razor wire, a hole was dug under it elsewhere.

The migrants' goal is to cross without being spotted by Hungarian border police so they will not be detained and sent to Hungarian asylum centers, where they are fingerprinted. The migrants don't want to go through the asylum process in financially struggling Hungary.

"If I get fingerprinted in Hungary, I don't go to Germany," explained Abdul Majed, a 25-year-old language student from Syria. "We make fingerprints in Germany, so you will be a refugee in Germany, not in Hungary."

Even when they are fingerprinted in Hungary, many still head north and west to wealthier countries.

By Wednesday morning, 1,302 migrants had already been detained at Hungary's southern border with Serbia, according to Karoly Papp, Hungary's national police chief. Police said 2,533 migrants were detained Tuesday, up from 2,093 on Monday, with the numbers setting records nearly every day.

Hungary is still scrambling to react. Papp said over 2,100 police "border hunters" would be deployed beginning Sept. 15, with helicopters, police dogs and patrols on horseback. Water cannons will also be sent to Szeged, the largest city in the region. Hungarian lawmakers next week will consider authorizing the government to use the armed forces to help with border security.

"The organization, equipment and great mobility of the border guard units ... will decrease the security risks caused by the massive illegal migration," Papp said.

But the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, Nils Muiznieks, criticized as "ill-advised" Hungary's and Bulgaria's plans to use the army to prevent asylum-seekers from crossing the border.

"(The) militarization of borders is wrong answer to migration," he said on his Twitter account. "It is urgent to adopt a European response, which ensures access to asylum and humane reception conditions."

Gabor Vona, head of Hungary's far-right Jobbik party, called for the deployment of troops.

"The only solution is if Hungary makes it clear for the international community, for Serbia, for the European Union that it has closed its borders. We will turn back everyone who shows up," Vona said at the border.

The hard-hit nations of Greece, Italy and Hungary have urged other EU European nations to do more to help share the heavy migrant burden, but some are refusing to do so because of strong anti-migrant sentiment or budget constraints. Greece reporting rescuing another 578 migrants at sea off its eastern islands in the last 24 hours.

Migration will figure high on the agenda of a Western Balkan summit in Vienna on Thursday. The EU, meanwhile, released 1.5 million euros ($1.7 million) worth of humanitarian aid Wednesday for refugees in Serbia and Macedonia.

In Serbia, police banned an anti-migrant rally by far-right groups that was to be held Monday in Belgrade. The interior minister said the government "will not allow any kind of gatherings against people forced to flee poverty and wars."

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Gec reported from the Serbian side of the border. Pablo Gorondi from Budapest, Hungary, Lorne Cook from Brussels, Frank Jordans from Berlin and Dusan Stojanovic from Belgrade, Serbia, contributed.