Barred at Hungary, refugees take longer route through Croatia.
Hungarian police used tear gas and water cannons on hundreds of refugees who broke through a razor wire fence on the border with Serbia, while refugees prevented from moving through Hungary increasingly began taking a longer route into western Europe through Croatia.
Frustrated refugees blocked on the Serbian side of the border threw plastic water bottles and rocks at helmeted riot police and chanted demands that the border be reopened. 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 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 of Horgos, a short distance from the main border crossing into Hungary.
Serbian authorities sent ambulances to the site but it wasn’t 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 EU for refugee, many of them from wars in 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 countries.
Hungarian authorities also said that they have arrested 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.
Hungary’s foreign minister denied that closed borders and tough new laws signal callousness toward refugees, repeating the government’s claim that most of those entering Hungary are actually economic migrants.
“Based on our history, we are always in solidarity with the refugees,” Peter Szijjarto said. “What we’re saying is that we cannot accept economic migrants because we cannot bear the burden of that.”
Most of the refugees who had hoped to cross into Hungary were still trapped along the border in Horgos, however.
Many were confused about whether to keep waiting or to try to enter the EU through Croatia, a longer and less direct path into western Europe.
Melita Sunjic, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, said that early in the day the migrants were refusing to leave the border but changed their minds because of news and rumours going around that Croatia’s borders were open.
Most hope to reach Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has said it expects 800,000 refugees to arrive this year. The vice chancellor has said the number could even reach 1 million.
“I don’t know what to do, stay here or try some other way to cross the border,” said Ahmed Sami from Aleppo, Syria.
“We walked and travelled for hundreds, thousands of kilometers only to be stopped meters from the EU. My wife and children cannot stand on their feet any more. This is tragic.”
At least two buses with about 100 people were seen leaving for the Croatian border from Kanjiza, a Serbian town on the border with Hungary.
About 300 crossed into Tovarnik, Croatia, after they were bused to the Serbian border town of Sid on an all-night ride from Macedonia.
Croatian prime minister Zoran Milanovic criticised Hungary’s decision to seal its border with Serbia for migrants and said Croatia will not do the same.
“We are ready to accept these people, regardless of their religion and the colour of their skin, and direct them to the destinations where they wish to go, Germany and Scandinavia,” Milanovic told parliament.
“Barbed wire in Europe in the 21st century is not an answer, it’s a threat,” Milanovic said.
Refugees have avoided Croatia in the past because they must still go into Hungary or Slovenia before reaching Austria or Germany. Elsewhere in Europe migrants remained on the move.
Greek police said about 5,000 refugees and migrants crossed the country’s northern border with Macedonia in 24 hours.
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