Peter Szijjarto, the Hungarian foreign minister, announced the government’s plan to build a 13ft fence along Hungary’s 109-mile frontier with Serbia in a bid to halt the growing number of migrants crossing into the EU country.
The prospect of a barrier, which has already been compared to the old Iron Curtain that once separated Hungary from the West, has angered Serbia. The country has set its sights on EU membership and has little in the way of resources to cope with the large numbers of migrants who could soon find themselves trapped there.
“Serbia will not follow the Hungarian example: we will not build walls and we do not want to live in Auschwitz,” Aleksander Vucic said in reference to the Nazi death camp. “I do not understand the situation but I am sure my Hungarian colleagues will give me a logical answer. We are not guilty of anything then all of a sudden a wall is built.”
The Serbian prime minister’s comments joined a chorus of criticism over the Hungarian decision.
Natasha Bertaud, a spokeswoman for the EU, said the EU “does not promote the use of fences and encourages member states to use alternative measures”, adding: “We have only recently taken down walls in Europe; we should not be putting them up”.
The Council of Europe’s human rights commission described the fence as “ill advised” and said Hungary should concentrate on “ensuring access to asylum rather than impeding it”.
Kitty McKinsey, regional spokeswoman for the UN High Commission on Human Rights, also condemned the Hungarian plan. “The right to seek asylum is an inalienable human right. So we are concerned that erecting a fence would place too many barriers to this right,” she said.
The anger, though, may have little effect on Hungary, which is experiencing a wave of immigration. This year alone around 53,000 people have requested asylum in Hungary, 10,000 more than in the whole of 2014 and a significant increase on the 2,150 who applied in 2012.
Thousands of Kosvars fleeing poverty in their impoverished corner of Europe have trekked through Serbia on their way to Hungary, but the Hungarian migration service says that increasing numbers of Syrians and North Africans escaping the violence, poverty and turbulence of the Middle East are now making their way to Hungary. Most intend to move on from Hungary to richer states in western Europe by taking advantage of the country’s membership of the Schengen zone.
The surge in people arriving in Hungary has become a hot and controversial political issue in a country unused to the experience of handling large number of migrants.