Time run­ning out for mi­grants on Ser­bia-Hungary bor­der


The 100 or so refugees set off early evening, hop­ing that the short walk across Ser­bia’s bor­der into Hungary will be the last leg of their treach­er­ous jour­ney into the EU.

The group are mostly Syr­i­ans. Young and old, fathers car­ry­ing chil­dren on shoul­ders, moth­ers with tod­dlers. One man has a head wound, mugged he says by “Ser­bian mafia” the pre­vi­ous day.

“We walk to­gether for pro­tec­tion, the jour­ney is scary, es­pe­cially for the women and chil­dren,” says Mo­hamed, 25, a doc­tor who fled Homs.

“We go by night, to avoid the po­lice, we want to make it to Ger­many or Swe­den,” he says.

Non-EU Ser­bia’s fron­tier with Hungary, which is in the bloc’s pass­port-free Schen­gen zone, has be­come a ma­jor cross­ing point for the huge num­bers of mi­grants en­ter­ing the EU.

So far this year, Hungary has reg- is­tered more than 100,000 asy­lum­seek­ers, over dou­ble the to­tal for all of 2014 and com­pared with just 2,000 in 2012.

Al­most all — cur­rently 1,500 a day, up from 1,000 a few months ago — cross from Ser­bia, and Hungary’s right-wing gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Vik­tor Or­ban has had enough.

To stem the flow, a four-me­ter­high barbed wire fence all along the 175-kilo­me­ter ( 110-mile) bor­der is be­ing erected. The first part was to be fin­ished on Sun­day, and the whole thing by Aug. 31.

Cur­rently, most of the mi­grants are spot­ted by heat cam­eras on py­lons lin­ing the fron­tier, now scanned by Ger­man and Aus­trian po­lice sent by EU bor­der agency Fron­tex, as well as the Hun­gar­i­ans.

Some sim­ply hand them­selves over as soon as they cross, need­ing ur­gent shel­ter.

Af­ter turn­ing onto a dirt track along­side a river as dusk falls, the group ac­com­pa­nied by AFP all scat- ter when they see the flash­ing blue lights of a Hun­gar­ian po­lice car.

“Why don’t they just let us through, we don’t want to get stuck in Hungary,” says Mo­hamed.


In the Ser­bian bor­der town of Kan­jiza vis­ited by AFP, mi­grants gather on the shady main square to rest and pre­pare for the walk.

“They don’t get much help from lo­cal peo­ple, so I do what I can, bring wa­ter, give di­rec­tions,” says res­i­dent Katalin Varga.

Their pres­ence has caused ten­sions, how­ever, and hote­liers com­plain of a drop in tourist book­ings.

“They (the tourists) come for the spas and the peace and quiet, but not this year,” says the owner of a ho­tel on the square.

Many lo­cals worry that their town will be­come a bot­tle­neck af­ter Hungary fin­ishes its fence and starts de­port­ing peo­ple back to Ser­bia as it has threat­ened.

When a tor­ren­tial storm breaks out, po­lice force another hote­lier to give shel­ter to dozens of drenched refugees in­clud­ing many small chil­dren.

Early the next morn­ing, the out­raged owner or­ders them to leave: “You can­not stay longer, get out now,” he shouts.

“We had to pay 5 eu­ros (US$5.45) each to stay in­side — no bed, no food or wa­ter, not even for the chil­dren,” says Salem, a 22-year-old stu­dent nurse from Aleppo.

“Where is the Chris­tian­ity?” he asks, pack­ing his ruck­sack with still damp clothes, and the sod­den of­fi­cial doc­u­ment al­low­ing him tem­po­rary transit in Ser­bia.

‘Europe for Euro­peans’

Those in­ter­cepted in Hungary, which has a pop­u­la­tion of 10 mil­lion, are brought to a reg­is­tra­tion cen­ter in the city of Szeged. Al­most all claim asy­lum and are then sent to refugee camps around the cen­tral Euro­pean coun­try.

But the large ma­jor­ity move on from Hungary when they can, with only 5,000 to 10,000 asy­lum seek­ers in the coun­try at any one time, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates from the Hun­gar­ian Helsinki Com­mit­tee, a refugee rights group.

The new­com­ers are not guar­an­teed a warm welcome, with Or­ban’s gov­ern­ment brand­ing them po­ten­tial ter­ror­ists and putting up bill­boards with slo­gans such as “We don’t want illegal im­mi­grants!”

“Europe should re­main for Euro­peans,” Or­ban said in a speech last month.

But many Hun­gar­i­ans do what they can.

At Szeged train sta­tion, teams of vol­un­teers, or­ga­nized on so­cial media, dis­trib­ute do­nated food, wa­ter and medicine to the of­ten be­wil­dered mi­grants, and help them take the right train to the camps.

“The fence is just a mes­sage to Hun­gar­ian vot­ers, it won’t stop peo­ple who have crossed con­ti­nents on foot,” says Mark Kekesi, one of the vol­un­teers.

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