The EU and its asylum and border rules were descending into chaos last night, increasing pressure on poorer states outside the union, including Serbia.
The head of the UN’s refugee agency, António Guterres, warned that “Europe is facing a moment of truth — either they unite to deal with this or become irrelevant”.
Hungary has locked its border with Serbia, through which about 190,000 refugees have crossed so far this year. It has refused asylum requests, which led to large groups, including Syrians, camping out overnight at the fence topped with razor wire.
Hungary’s actions are contrary to EU rules and international treaties regarding the treatment of people seeking protection, but sources defended it as protecting the EU’s external borders.
The authorities announced they will extend the fence along the Hungary/ Romania border to prevent people crossing there.
Of the 191,702 migrants that Hungary reported as arriving on its territory in the past eight months, 300 were given asylum, and most of those who did not move on were bussed to the border, mainly with Austria.
After weeks of taking huge numbers, Vienna also announced last night that it was closing all its border.
EU justice ministers had agreed to take an initial 40,000 new refugees from those now coming into Italy and Greece. They failed to agree on taking an additional 120,000 that would include 54,000 from Hungary.
They will meet again on Tuesday in another effort to agree on who takes them, while there is also the prospect of an emergency EU leaders summit.
There is little indication that Hungary will change its approach. The country has even indicated it does not want to be included in sharing its asylum seekers — possibly because there are very few left in the country.
Mr Guterres said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimated it needs to relocate 200,000 people. This must go hand in hand with adequate reception and processing facilities, especially in Greece, which the EU has agreed to put in place.
He appealed to European countries to volunteer to take more people now while the emergency was still manageable, and called for the EU to put in place this Plan B.
He said an emergency plan to help Serbia is needed immediately to help the country cope with the numbers now trapped there because of Hungary closing its borders. “Serbia is under enormous stress with 4,000 a day arriving. It does not have the capacity and is not a rich country but have been working very well with us on this problem so far.”
Aurélie Ponthieu of Médecins Sans Frontières said the numbers being discussed by the EU in no way matched what she is seeing on the ground.
“They are discussing this since July and still people are risking their lives. Now we are watching a domino effect as countries shut their borders. Winter is coming and nobody is prepared for it. On some of the Greek islands people are sleeping outside — we need a solution,” Ms Ponthieu said.
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