HUNGARY declared a state of emergency in two of its southern counties yesterday after it sealed its border with Serbia and detained those trying to enter the country illegally.
Hundreds of refugees piled up in a no-man’s land at the border and Serbian officials reacted with outrage at the move which coincided with legislation in Hungary that could see illegal migrants being jailed for three years.
Stuck for an unknown amount of time on a strip of road between the two countries’ checkpoints, those fleeing violence in their homelands pitched tents and settled in. But frustrations were on the rise. As a police helicopter hovered above, migrants chanted “Open the border!” and shouted insults at Hungarian riot police. Some refused food and water in protest.
With a razor-wire fence along the Serbian border, foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said Hungary now also plans to extend the fence for “a reasonable distance” along its border with Romania. Both Serbia and Romania decried Hungary’s moves.
“Raising a fence between two EU member states who are strategic partners is not a fair gesture from a political point of view, according to the European spirit,” Romania’s foreign ministry said.
Serbia’s foreign minister declared it was “unacceptable” that migrants were being sent back from Hungary while more and more were arriving from Macedonia and Greece.
“[Serbia] wants to be part of the solution, not collateral damage. There will have to be talks in the coming days with Brussels and other countries,” Ivica Dacic said in Prague.
The turmoil at the Hungarian-Serbian border came a day after the 28-nation bloc failed to come up with a united immigration policy at a contentious meeting in Brussels. The ministers did agree to share responsibility for 40,000 people seeking refuge in overwhelmed Italy and Greece and spoke hopefully of reaching an eventual deal – next month or by the end of the year – on which EU nations would take 120,000 more refugees, including some from Hungary.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Austria called yesterday for a special European Union summit next week to discuss the immigration crisis.
Hungary, however, was not pinning its hopes on any action soon from Brussels or its neighbors. Yesterday’s state of emergency in two southern regions gave authorities greater powers to deal with the crisis, allowing them to shut down roads and speed up asylum court cases.
In the last few months, Hungary has become a major bottleneck and entry point into the European Union for migrants, many of them war refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. Prime minister Viktor Orban, however, has insisted that most arriving are economic migrants seeking a better life, not war refugees entitled to protection – a view sharply at odds with other EU nations, including Germany.