Hungary seals border to migrant surge

A woman walks next to border barriers at a makeshift migrants and refugees camp situated meters away from the Serbian border with Hungary. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)
A woman walks next to border barriers at a makeshift migrants and refugees camp situated meters away from the Serbian border with Hungary. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)
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More than 1,300 refugees are trapped in dire living conditions at the Hungary-Serbia border as Hungarian authorities stopped them from entering the country, the United Nations’ refugee agency has warned.

Refugees, fleeing countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, were turned away from Hungary by 10,000 police brought in to patrol the borders in a bid to keep immigrants away.

Migrants who are detained within five miles of the border are sent back to Serbia, under new Hungarian rules.

Around 800 migrants are believed to be living out in 
the open on the Serbian side of the border, without shelter or sanitation. Temperatures in the area are set to rise as high as 36C over the next week.

UNHCR’s regional spokesman in Budapest, Erno Simon, warned that he is “deeply concerned” about the practice and the increasingly dangerous conditions for those at the border.

Meanwhile, Serbian authorities said this week that refugees are still travelling along the so-called “Western Balkans route” from Greece, with 102,000 registered in Serbia since the beginning of the year.

Thousands of refugees were trapped in transit camps elsewhere in Serbia after the closure of the Western Balkans route in March. However, the reception centre at Presevo, in the south of Serbia, where refugees were previously entering from Macedonia, is now believed to be home to only a handful of refugees.

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Meanwhile, recent reports have claimed that more people are still managing to make it into the country - with many now travelling via Bulgaria, rather than Macedonia, over the past three months.

The Balkan route, which was manned by international aid organisations and allowed refugees a pathway to claim asylum in Germany through organised transport and transit camps, was closed after Macedonia and Croatia sealed their borders to stop refugees from passing through from Greece.

Serbia’s Minister of Labour and Social and Veteran Affairs Aleksandar Vulin said: “A year ago we proved that the Balkan route exists. In a year, over 600,000 migrants passed through our country, and since 1 January this year we have registered 102,000 migrants passing through Serbia even though the Balkan route has been closed since the beginning of March.

“That means that the Balkan route still exists and that the people are finding it increasingly difficult to reach European Union countries.”

Hungary, which has been long-opposed to migration since the European refugee crisis began last year, announced earlier this week that it plans to hold a referendum to decide whether it will adhere to a quota of refugees assigned to it by the European Union. It has previously attracted criticism for its reticence to help refugees.

The referendum question, to be posed on 2 October, is expected to say: “Do you want the European Union to be entitled to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of parliament?”

All EU countries have been assigned quotas of refugees to be resettled based on their physical and economic size - however, the UK exercised an opt-out to the system and will not take any refugees from camps in Europe. Instead, it is to accept refugees directly from camps in the Middle East.

Janos Lazar, chief of staff to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said on Friday: “Today, the protection of Hungary and of Europe is the government’s task.”

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said this week that Serbia would not react in the same way as Hungary. Some Serbian media has claimed that Hungary plans to return 17,000 refugees to Serbia.

He said: “For Hungary, security is the most important question. Stopping illegal immigration is a key issue.

“Serbia will not imitate Hungary and will not stage a ‘show’ on its borders.”