Stones and tear gas fly as migrant tension erupts

Hungary says at least 20 police and several migrants injured in border clashes

Black smoke billows at the Hungarian border with Serbia as riot police fire water cannons to disperse migrants protesting border crackdown. Video: Reuters

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The late summer heat was oppressive over Hungary’s southern borderlands, the air heavy with the fatigue, frustration and uncertainty of hundreds of people who wanted to wash, eat and sleep normally, and to know where they future lay.

“We haven’t slept for six days, and we need to move on. We just need to cross the border,” said Ali Yousef from Syria, before the locked gates and razor wire of Hungary’s frontier with Serbia.

He stood with compatriot Mario Alset in a scene of deepening despair: migrants of all ages lying on the road, in whatever shade they could find, among discarded clothes, empty water bottles and scraps of litter; an elderly man trembling in a wheelchair; a young boy traipsing past, dragging a deflated balloon on a string.

Spreading across a two-lane road, the main motorway linking Hungary and Serbia and the scrubland between, migrants and refugees from as far afield as Bangladesh, Iraq and Somalia continued to gather here yesterday, hoping Budapest would relent and reopen a border it slammed shut on Sunday.

“We’ve come thousands of kilometres to get to Europe, ” said Alset (18) from Damascus. “What shall we do now? Go all the way back?”

As he spoke, a brief scuffle broke out between two migrants. From across the border fence a line of Hungarian policemen, sweating in the heat, kept silent watch.

Furious farmer

Back down the road, a furious Serb farmer had earlier thrown his tractor into reverse and roared towards a gaggle of Arab boys, who had grabbed apples from a wagon he was towing from the fields; in Horgos village, locals looked on aghast as hundreds of migrants filed through the streets and camped down on grass verges.

It seemed inevitable, afterwards, that one of the many sparks in that sultry air would erupt into something bigger, but the shock of the first clashes at this border post sent women and children running, screaming, for cover.

It appearedthat young men kicking a border gate in front of riot police prompted them to respond with canisters of tear gas or pepper spray, and a rapid escalation soon saw migrants hurling bottles and stones at security forces, who replied with water cannon.

Anti-terrorism squad

Within minutes, Hungary’s elite anti-terrorism squad and armoured personnel carriers were on the scene and, last night, as calm descended, several military Humvees mounted with guns were seen taking up position in nearby fields.

The border crossing would stay closed for 30 days, Hungary said last night, as it lambasted the migrants and traded accusations with Serbia over who was to blame for the violence.

“Why do they keep us here?” Ali Yousef had asked.

“Why do they do this? This is not Europe”.

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