Hundreds of migrants begin long trek from Belgrade to Hungary

Marchers call for border to be opened as they leave Belgrade escorted by police

 More than 300 migrants march from Belgrade towards Hungary, aspiring to enter the European Union, two days after a void anti-migrants vote in Serbia’s northern neighbour. Photograph: Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images

More than 300 migrants march from Belgrade towards Hungary, aspiring to enter the European Union, two days after a void anti-migrants vote in Serbia’s northern neighbour. Photograph: Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images

 

Hundreds of asylum seekers started marching on Tuesday from Serbia’s capital towards its northern border with Hungary, while waving placards and chanting slogans demanding the opening of the heavily fortified frontier.

The migrants staged a protest in a park near Belgrade’s main bus station – which has been a major gathering point for migrants for more than a year – before scuffles broke out among them and one group of about 300 set off through the city.

“They came back and attacked the group that was just standing in the park because they didn’t want to go with them. There were no injured, but it was very tense. The police had to intervene and break them apart,” a witness told Serbia’s B92 broadcaster.

Serbian police escorted the marchers from the city centre, across a major bridge spanning the Sava river and to a northern suburb, from where they struck out on what would be a walk of 200km to the border with Hungary.

They shouted “Open the border” and held handmade signs with messages such as “We don’t need food, water or nothing – we want u to open the border.”

Balkan route

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Now Hungary allows only a handful of asylum seekers each day to enter two “transit zones” in the border fence; families are given priority, and hundreds of people are living in squalid conditions beside the barrier.

Most of those marching out of Belgrade were young men, who can spend weeks at the border waiting to enter the transit zones. Hungary returns the vast majority of them to Serbia having rejected their requests for asylum.

A similar march from Belgrade towards Hungary earlier this year ended after about 90km, when the migrants agreed to be taken to reception centres; volunteers helping the migrants in Belgrade said they had been encouraged to march by radical “no borders” activists.

The latest protest comes after Hungary held a referendum on Sunday on whether the EU should have the right to relocate refugees to the country, regardless of the wishes of its parliament.

More than 98 per cent of those who voted supported the No position of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, but turnout was well below the 50 per cent required to make the referendum legally valid.

About 7,000 migrants are now in state camps and sleeping rough in Serbia, and its president Tomislav Nikolic has warned that the country would seek to seal its southern borders if it “becomes a funnel from which water cannot drain”.