Analysis: Tolerance waning as Serb villagers tire of migrants

Horgos mayor fears destruction of local economy as tens of thousands cross fields

A migrant, hoping to cross into Hungary, plays with a child along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with Hungary. Photograph: Marko Djurica/Reuters

A migrant, hoping to cross into Hungary, plays with a child along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with Hungary. Photograph: Marko Djurica/Reuters

 

Mayor Istvan Bacskulin cast a gimlet-eyed gaze over the fields that separate Serbia and Hungary, and didn’t much like what he saw.

It wasn’t so much the Afghans lying in the shade that he minded – although he could happily do without them traipsing through his village of Horgos – but what they and perhaps tens of thousands of other migrants had done to the crops and orchards that many locals rely upon.

“Thousands pass this way each day, and if each one takes a few grapes or a couple of peaches, then what will be left?” Bacskulin asked.

At the mayor’s feet and in the fields for miles around lay the detritus of this desperate migration, from countless empty water bottles and biscuit wrappers to discarded shoes, rucksacks, sleeping bags and tents: an elderly local man wheeled past a bike loaded up with bags of clothes, to wash and then wear or sell on.

Among the countless items in the dirt lay tubes of super glue, which some asylum-seekers put on their fingertips to mask prints that are taken by Hungary’s border police, in the hope of avoiding being sent back there from western Europe.

Tossed away

“The apples aren’t ripe and the corn is for animal feed, it’s not sweet, so they just throw this stuff away,” he mutters.

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“We understand their problems – in Serbia we understand war and having to flee – but this is our livelihood. They are destroying it and moving on.”

Glittering coils of razor wire now mark the frontier’s course through Horgos’s fields.

The multimillion-euro fence does not stop thousands of migrants crossing each day, however, and a walk through the fields finds dozens of people waiting for darkness before trying to dodge the border guards that patrol the Hungarian side.

It will soon be time to harvest the fruit and vegetables from which locals earn a little cash and make jams and pickles for winter, and they already place most blame for what is likely to be a poor yield on the migrants, rather than a scorching summer.

“We live on the main road near the border, and we had to dig out our lovely bushes because the migrants used them as a toilet,” complained Horgos woman Yolan Hormonai.

“They camp anywhere and leave rubbish all over the place. That breeds bacteria, and perhaps they are carrying diseases – we just don’t know!”

Bewildering

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Soon, the harvest will see local people mingling with migrants in the fields, and the United Nations refugee agency expects no let-up in the flow of asylum seekers until winter, which can be as bitterly cold here as this summer has been hot.

Bacskulin is already thinking ahead, with trepidation, to the cold months, and wondering what will happen once Hungary completes a four-metre high steel fence along the frontier.

“Within a week we could have 10,000-15,000 people trapped here,” he said.

“They will probably try to move into the many empty houses in Horgos, and burn furniture for heat. And having cleared the trees of fruit they’ll cut them down for firewood, and then there’ll be no orchards and no income for us next year.”

Bacskulin shook his head at the prospect, and said the next fence built should be on the border between Turkey and Syria.

“People around here know there’s nothing I can do about this. National leaders have to act, and the European Union has to get tough.”