Migrant crisis: Hungary seeks support for new border fence

Refugees sleep out in open in Balkans as weather and political situation worsen

 Hungarian soldiers build a temporary  razor-wire fence  at the border between Hungary and Croatia. Photograph: Gyorgy Varga/EPA

Hungarian soldiers build a temporary razor-wire fence at the border between Hungary and Croatia. Photograph: Gyorgy Varga/EPA

 

Worsening weather and tightening borders confront thousands of migrants making their way through the Balkans to western Europe, as the changing seasons and firebrand Hungarian leader Viktor Orban look set to play key roles in the crisis over the coming weeks.

As grey skies glowered over cold and wet asylum seekers at Opatovac transit camp in eastern Croatia yesterday, Mr Orban sought support for a fence that is almost complete along Hungary’s border with that country – the migrants’ main route since a barrier on the Hungary-Serbia frontier was finished earlier this month.

On a day when Amin Awad, a regional co-ordinator for the United Nations refugee agency, said the flow of asylum seekers was probably just “the tip of the iceberg”, Mr Orban said, during a visit to Austria, the key issue now was whether his fence could stop the migrants on the Hungary-Croatian border.

“This is the big question of the next few days and weeks, I am trying to seek supporters for this,” he said after talks with Austria’s chancellor, Werner Faymann.

Having blocked Hungary’s border with Serbia by means of a 175km fence, Mr Orban’s officials say a barrier along the Croatian frontier will be finished in the next few days.

Razor wire also appeared this week along part of Hungary’s border with Slovenia – potentially the migrants’ next route if the Croatia-Hungary path is closed.

“Introducing the border protection to Serbia has met expectations. Our duty is to make it happen on the Hungarian-Croatian border as well,” Mr Orban said.

Hungarian officials had said they may allow migrants to use a “corridor” to cross the country to Austria and Germany – if those two countries and the EU agreed to “take responsibility” for it – but Mr Orban suggested that Vienna did not support such a plan and backed tighter border controls.

“Austria grudgingly accepted that in order for Hungary to comply with its international legal obligations, it has to control its borders,” he said.

“If we cannot uphold this, that will spell trouble for ourselves, for Austria and Germany; therefore, we must uphold it.”

Westward route

Romania

Croatia’s anger at how Serbia is allowing scores of buses and taxis to ferry thousands of migrants to its border each day has prompted it to ban all Serbian-registered vehicles from its territory.

In turn, Serbia has barred Croatian cargo and trucks and, amid reports of Serbian citizens being prevented from entering Croatia, it accused the Zagreb government of acting like the fascists who ran the country during the second World War.

“I’m holding intensive talks with my colleagues to remove today or tomorrow the measures that we had to introduce,” Croatia’s prime minister, Zoran Milanovic, said yesterday, shortly after the EU announced it was seeking “urgent clarification” over the dispute.

Some 60,000 migrants have entered Croatia from Serbia in the last 10 days – rerouting to avoid the Hungary-Serbia border fence – and Zagreb has urged Belgrade to slow the flow of people, accommodate some temporarily in a camp, or divert some to Hungary or Romania.

Serbia claims to be powerless to control people passing through in Europe’s worst refugee crisis since the second World War.

Cold and wet

“There were maybe 500 people there last night, near the border. Kids were getting sick, and old people.

“They gave us some food there, and we made a fire, but in the end we just walked here,” said Hamou Halebi from Aleppo in Syria, hugging a grey blanket to his shoulders and sipping warm tea prepared by volunteers.

Doctors at the camp said they had treated more than 100 people overnight for foot problems caused by walking through the rain for long distances – including some 16km from the border to Opatovac – in poor footwear.

Dozens of asylum seekers were wearing summer clothes and shoes, and shivered under blankets and plastic rain sheets; many recount how they lost or threw away their luggage on the dangerous sea-crossing from Turkey to Greece.

“Sure, we are cold and tired, but it’s alright, the worst is over,” said Bashar (18) who studied law in Homs before fleeing Syria’s civil war.

“The road is hard and long, so we have to be strong. The worst danger was the sea, on the boat to Greece, and that is over. Now, maybe, we are only a few days from Germany.”