Frustrated migrants halted on the Serbian side of the border threw plastic water bottles and rocks at helmeted riot police and chanted demands that the border be re-opened. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons.
“We fled wars and violence and did not expect such brutality and inhumane treatment in Europe,” said Amir Hassan, an Iraqi who was soaking wet from the water cannon and trying to wash tear gas from his eyes.
“Shame on you, Hungarians,” he shouted pointing in the direction of the shielded Hungarian policemen who were firing volleys of tear gas canisters directly into the crowd.
The clashes took place at a small border crossing in the Serbian village Horgos, a short distance from the main border crossing into Hungary. Serbian authorities sent ambulances to the site but it was not immediately clear how many people were injured.
Before the tensions escalated, some women had pushed to the front of the crowd and held small babies and children above their heads as they faced police in an obvious appeal for mercy, but no-one made it through.
In the past few months, Hungary has become a main entry point into the European Union for migrants, many of them war refugees from Syria and Iraq, with more than 200,000 entering the country so far this year. Almost all entered from the southern border with Serbia and passed through Hungary quickly on their way to Germany or other wealthy Western European nations.
Hungarian authorities also said yesterday that they have arrested a total of 519 migrants who tried to cross the border since tough new laws went into effect on Tuesday that make it a crime to cross from Serbia anywhere other than at legal checkpoints. Authorities launched 46 criminal prosecutions and found two Iraqi men guilty, the first convictions based on the new laws.
Two men were expelled from Hungary, with one banned from re-entering the country for one year, the other banned for two years. Televised images from a courthouse in Szeged earlier showed four Iraqi men who were charged with their hands tied in front of them and their shoelaces removed ahead of trial.
Syrian president Bashar Assad yesterday blamed Europe for the crisis, saying it is a direct result of the West’s support for extremists in Syria over the past four years.
Mr Assad accused Europe of supporting “terrorism” and providing “protection for terrorists, calling them moderates”.
“How can one be indignant about a drowned child and remain silent about the deaths of thousands of children, elderly people, women and men killed by terrorists in Syria?” Mr Assad said.