Hungary locks down EU border, taking migrant crisis into its own hands

Updated: 2015-09-15 22:42


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Hungary locks down EU border, taking migrant crisis into its own hands

Migrants walk on the Serbian side of the border near Asttohatolom, Hungary September 15, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]


"I don't know what I will do," said 40-year-old Riad from Aleppo, once Syria's commercial hub reduced largely to rubble since war broke out in 2011. "I will wait to see. We have lost everything to reach this point."

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 asylumseekers 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 thousands of migrants 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, and other countries said they were monitoring the situation to determine whether they need to do so as well.

The Schengen system eliminated border controls between 26 European countries, leaving no mechanism to enforce rules which still ban travel by undocumented migrants within the bloc.

Countries are permitted to reimpose border checks in an emergency, but have never before done so on the scale unfolding this week.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel argues that it is a moral duty to accept refugees, and Berlin has become exasperated at the reluctance of neighbours, especially to the east. Her Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said on Tuesday the EU should impose financial penalties for countries that reject quotas.

"So I think we must talk about ways of exerting pressure,"he told ZDF television, adding that some of the countries that opposed quotas were beneficiaries of EU funds.

Tomá Prouza, the Czech State Secretary for the EU, reacted angrily. "German threats that central Europe will be punished by cutting cohesion funds are empty but very damaging to all," he said.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said his country would never agree to quotas. Putting financial pressure on states that refused would amount to punishing them for having a different opinion. That would lead to "the end of the EU", Fico said.

At least 200,000 migrants have crossed into Hungary this year. More than 9,000 entered on Monday, setting a single-day record as they rushed to cross the frontier before Orban'sgovernment shut it.

"We're on the street now," said Mouz, a 22-year-old Syrian, who slept on the border. Asked if he might consider another route, he replied: "I don't know. I'm from Syria. I cannot go back."

Serbia fears becoming a bottleneck. The government says it is readying more temporary accommodation but will not accept anyone turned back from Hungary.

"That's no longer our responsibility," Aleksandar Vulin, the minister in charge of policy on migrants, told the Tanjug state news agency. "They are on Hungarian territory and I expect the Hungarian state to behave accordingly towards them."

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