Hungary slams door on refugees

Echoes of the Cold War as EU fails to agree redistribution plan.

Hungary’s right-wing government has shut the main land route for refugees into the EU, taking matters into its own hands to halt Europe’s unprecedented influx of refugees while the bloc failed to agree a plan to distribute them.

Crowds of refugees built up at Serbia’s northern border with Hungary, their passage blocked by a razor wire fence.

Under new rules that took effect, Hungary says anyone seeking asylum at the Serbian border will automatically be turned back. Anyone trying to sneak through will face jail.

With Hungary’s border with Serbia closed, refugees could seek other land routes into the Schengen zone, including over Romania or Croatia, EU members outside Schengen.

Hungary said it would extend its border fence to its frontier with Romania if necessary, a proposal which Romania denounced.

Prime minister Viktor Orban, one of the continent’s loudest opponents of mass immigration, says he is acting to save Europe’s “Christian values” by blocking the main overland route used by mainly Muslim refugees, through the Balkans and across his country via its border with Serbia.

In scenes with echoes of the Cold War, families with small children sat in fields beneath the former communist country’s new 3.5m high fence, which runs almost the length of the border.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been arriving at the EU’s southern and eastern edges and making their to the richer countries further north and west, in the greatest migration to western Europe since World War Two.

With emergency talks having failed to break a deadlock over an EU plan to force member countries to accept quotas of refugees, Germany’s interior minister said the bloc should consider imposing financial penalties on countries that refuse.

Record arrivals forced Germany and several neighbours to reimpose emergency frontier controls this week, unravelling two decades of borderless travel within the 26-member Schengen zone, one of the EU’s flagship achievements.

Germany and other relatively open countries say Europe has a moral obligation to accept refugees and other EU states must do their part.

Eastern European countries in particular argue a more welcoming stance only encourages more people to make dangerous voyages, and risks attracting an uncontrolled influx of millions.

Under its new rules, Hungary said it will now automatically turn back refugees who arrive by land at its border with Serbia, which it has declared “safe”, meaning those crossing from it cannot claim asylum.

Asylum claims would be processed within eight days, and those at the Serbian border should be rejected within hours.

“If someone is a refugee, we will ask them whether they have submitted an asylum request in Serbia. If they had not done so, given that Serbia is a safe country, they will be rejected,” Orban was quoted as telling private broadcaster TV2.

“We will start a new era. We will stop the inflow of illegal migrants over our green borders”, government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said shortly after midnight on the border.

Long queues formed in no-man’s land at metal containers built into the fence, where refugees were expected to register, though only a handful were seen entering. They had spent the night in the open, given tents, food and water by aid workers.

“I don’t know what I will do”, said 40-year-old Riad from Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial hub reduced in many parts to rubble since war broke out in 2011 and put to flight millions of Syrians. “I will wait to see. We have lost everything to reach this point,” he said.

Hungary blames Germany for accelerating the flow of migrants and tearing up European rules by announcing in August that it would take in Syrian refugees regardless of where they entered the EU.

Germany has prepared for as many as 800,000 asylum seekers this year, and some senior officials now say even that figure may be an underestimate.

More than 100,000 asylum seekers arrived in Germany in August, and nearly as many have already arrived by train in the first two weeks of this month.

More than 460,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean this year, more than double the figure from last year.

After tens of thousands of refugees converged on Munich in recent weeks, Germany’s government abruptly reintroduced border controls with other Schengen states on Sunday. Austria, Slovakia and the Netherlands swiftly followed suit.


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