As the European Commission once again failed to offer a collective solution for those fleeing war-torn and poverty-stricken lands abroad, Hungary has come to exemplify the continent’s worst tendencies when it comes to treatment of refugees
by: Jon Queally
Protests have erupted near the Hungarian border with Serbia on Tuesday after the right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán fulfilled its promises to close Hungary’s borders and treat refugees attempting to cross into the country as criminals.
After sending army soldiers to bolster defense of newly-erected razor-lined fences, Orbándeclared a state of emergency for southern portions of his country along the Serbian border early in the day. Reports indicate that thousands have already been turned away while those who attempted to pass through the fortified border have been arrested under a new criminal code.
According to the Associated Press, Hungarian officials closed two of seven border crossings with Serbia Tuesday morning. The night before, officials deployed a boxcar covered with razor wire to close a key border crossing along a railroad track that had been the main entry point for migrants.
Chaotic scenes were reported at the border as those who were refused entry into Hungary were also not allowed back into Serbia, with thousands forced to remain along a road connecting Roszke, Hungary and Horgos, Serbia—an area that has become a literal no man’s land for those seeking asylum in Europe.
Agence France-Presse offered this pair of videos taken over the last 24 hours:
“I don’t know what I will do,” said 40-year-old Riad from the Syrian city of Aleppo, who spoke with Reuters near the border. “I will wait to see. We have lost everything to reach this point.”
As AP reports, at least one group of asylum-seekers blocked the main highway connecting Serbia and Hungary and said they will refuse food and water until they are allowed to cross into Hungary on their way to western Europe.
In scenes with echoes of the Cold War, families with small children sat in fields beneath the former communist country’s new 3.5-metre high fence, which runs almost the length of the border.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been arriving at the EU’s southern and eastern edges and making their to the richer countries further north and west, in the greatest migration to Western Europe since World War Two.
With emergency talks having failed to break a deadlock over an EU plan to force member countries to accept quotas of refugees, Germany’s Interior Minister said the bloc should consider imposing financial penalties on countries that refuse.
Record arrivals forced Germany and several neighbours to reimpose emergency frontier controls this week, unravelling two decades of borderless travel within the 26-member Schengen zone, one of the EU’s flagship achievements.
Journalist James Mates, with ITV News in Europe, reported how Serbian minister Aleksander Vulin demanded Hungarian border guards open the crossing, but was refused. Earlier Vulin was quoted as saying those caught in between the borders are no longer Serbia’s responsibility. “They are on Hungarian territory and I expect the Hungarian state to behave accordingly towards them,” he said.
On Monday, the emergency meeting of the European Commission failed to generate a conclusive agreement on the crisis, but critics were concerned that one of the key options tabled was ending the EU’s “open border” commitment and stripping asylum-seekers of their right to seek refuge in the country of their choosing. According to the Guardian:
[Monday’s meeting] broke up in acrimony amid failure to agree on a new system of binding quotas for refugees being shared across the EU and other decisions being deferred until next month.
The lacklustre response to a refugee emergency that is turning into a full-blown European crisis focused on “Fortress Europe” policies aimed at excluding refugees and shifting the burden of responsibility on to third countries, either of transit or of origin.
The ministers called for the establishment of refugee camps in Italy and Greece and for the detention of “irregular migrants” denied asylum and facing deportation but for whom “voluntary return” was not currently “practicable”.
The most bruising battle was over whether Europe should adopt a new system of mandatory quotas for sharing refugees. The scheme, proposed by the European commission last week, is strongly supported by Germany which sought to impose the idea on the rejectionists mainly in eastern Europe.
Meanwhile, for those who did not make it into Hungary before the arbitrary deadline on Tuesday, an uncertain future now awaits.
As the Guardian’s foreign correspondent Patrick Kingsley reports from Hungary:
More than 9,000 refugees made it into Hungary in the final hours before the border was sealed, officials said in a statement, but a substantially greater number of people – still making their way through Syria, Turkey, Greece and the Balkan states – have been left in limbo.
One of the first families to be shut out was a Palestinian-Syrian family from the Damascus suburb of Yarmouk. Carrying two babies all the way from Syria, they have been forced to find a new home just a few decades after their parents’ generation fled from Israel. Radwan, a 38-year-old printer and the father of the family, said: “We’re Palestinian-Syrians, where else are we supposed to go now? We’re coming from destruction and killing. I shouldn’t have to take five children all the way here for us to be shut out here.”
But his wife Mayada warned of the futility of trying to stop people fleeing from a fate far worse. “This won’t stop people,” she said, cradling her months-old baby on the road next to the border gates. “For example, my sister and her husband and their three children will leave Syria soon. I have told them that it is difficult, but they will still come.”
As refugee and migrant rights advocates reiterate their calls for European nations to respond to those fleeing wars and yearning for a better life with open arms, Hungary doubled-down on its closed-border policies on Tuesday by announcing preparations to extend its fortified fencing along the border it shares with Romania.
“We have made the decision to start preparatory works for the construction of a fence starting from the Hungarian-Serbian-Romanian border at a reasonable length should migration pressure shift in the direction of Romania,” Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.