Hundreds of migrants marching to Hungary border in protest

AP News
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Posted: Jul 22, 2016 3:43 PM
Hundreds of migrants marching to Hungary border in protest

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers set off on foot Friday toward Serbia's border with Hungary to protest its decision to keep its border closed for most people trying to reach the European Union.

Migrants held cardboard placards saying "Hungary Open Borders" or "No Borders, No Fence" as they marched Friday in a long column along a road leading north from Belgrade toward the Hungarian border 200 kilometers (120 miles) away.

Several police cars drove slowly by the marchers, who were carrying bags and blankets. Most migrants appeared to be young men who stand little chance of entering Hungary or other EU nations.

"We have no money, we walk," one shouted as he hurried with the group.

The migrant march slowed traffic on the road connecting Belgrade with the northern city of Novi Sad.

Hungary has recently strengthened anti-migrant controls on its southern border with Serbia, letting in about 30 people a day, mostly families with small children. This has left a few thousand people stuck in Serbia, with hundreds camping along the border without basic facilities.

Also on Friday, international medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders warned of a "sharp increase" in violence against migrants and refugees since the Balkan borders closed for the free flow of migrants in March.

"In the last months, an increasing number of our patients reported cases of violence and abuse and showed physical trauma directly associated with violence," said Simon Burroughs, MSF head of mission in Serbia. "Many of these cases were allegedly perpetrated by Hungarian authorities.

"We are extremely worried that the new measures recently adopted by Hungarian authorities will lead to increased violence against migrants, who are increasingly treated like criminals," added Burroughs.

He added that conditions along the Serbia-Hungary border are "unfit for human beings."

Faced with a pileup of refugees, Serbian authorities also have announced stricter, joint army and police border controls with Bulgaria and Macedonia, where migrants mostly enter the country. Most of the people stranded in Serbia have refused to apply for asylum there, fearing it would ruin their chances of one day reaching any EU nation.

Dozens were lying on blankets in a park in Belgrade, unsure of what to do next. Some have already tried to reach Hungary, but were pushed back by authorities there.

"I tried three times to go to Hungary, but it is closed," complained Ajmal Azizi, a 20-year-old from Afghanistan, who says he wants to join family members in Germany.

Irena Vari, an aid worker helping migrants in Belgrade, said many have been in the Serbian capital for weeks, even months now.

Some migrants staged a protest in Belgrade earlier Friday, threatening hunger strikes, Vari said.

"They are now in such a position that they are left with smugglers," she said. "The majority have sold everything and spent everything and they are stuck here."