In a dry clearing of woodland in southern Hungary, there is the drone of wood-chippers and rumble of earth movers. Dozens of men are clearing the ground for what Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, believes will be a solution to the country’s worsening migration crisis: a 175km steel and barbed wire fence along its flank with Serbia.
More than 80,000 migrants have crossed this stretch of land into Hungary — and the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone — so far this year, placing the country on the route of a trail that begins as far away as the fields of Kunduz in Afghanistan and the bombed-out streets of Aleppo in Syria.
But Hungary’s Balkan borderlands are now set to become the choke point for what has become Europe’s most heavily travelled migration route. Many expect the €20m fence — which should be finished by November — to trap thousands in neighbouring countries such as Serbia and Macedonia, where migrants say they face police violence and extortion.
The fence has attracted criticism from migrant rights groups, the UN’s refugee agency and the European Commission. Serbia’s government, which was not notified of the plans in advance, reacted with alarm to the decision to seal the border but has pledged to boost border security co-operation.
“I am not sure whether the fence between Serbia and Hungary will help that country protect itself against mass influx of asylum seekers,” said Nebojsa Stefanovic, Serbia’s minister of the interior. “However, we cannot interfere with decisions of neighbouring countries that are within their exclusive competence.”
Mr Orban, who has linked unmanaged immigration to terrorism, insists border security is a national obligation. But since the plan to build the fence was announced, the numbers detected crossing the border have only increased, sometimes reaching more than 1,500 a day.
Even though the vast majority of those have left to try to reach Germany and other more prosperous countries, daily arrivals are straining Hungary.
The surge has become especially noticeable outside train and bus stations in towns such as Szeged in the country’s south, where city authorities have set up a makeshift help centre complete with fresh water taps, stocks of sandwiches and power sockets for migrants to charge their phones.
But not all are so welcoming. Anti-immigrant vigilantes have begun patrols along the border, in search of migrants who have escaped the attention of border police who use heat-seeking cameras, dogs and sometimes helicopters to monitor the area.
Just a few kilometres away, on the other side of the planned fence, dozens of Afghan migrants appear at an abandoned brick factory near the town of Subotica to receive food from Pastor Tibor Varga, who runs the Eastern European Mission, a Christian charity.
“I don’t know what will happen with this fence; I don’t think it will help Hungary stop the situation. It may mean more people being trapped here in Serbia and I don’t know how that will end,” says Pastor Varga.
One of the men at the factory, which migrants call “the jungle”, is Muhammed Bilal, a network engineer, who says he left Kunduz in Afghanistan because of violent attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis.
Mr Bilal and his friend Tlha Jan from Jalalabad have travelled for more than a month in the hope of reaching Germany. Mr Jan says Bulgarian police stole his phone and $500 in cash before breaking his ribs and beating his feet with hammers. His toes are black and swollen.
“Now our journey has gotten more dangerous,” says Mr Bilal. “This morning, a person told us the Hungarian government plans to make a fence along the border. But that takes time; we will get across in the next few days.” he adds.
Hungarian ministers say the country has less than 3,000 residential places for asylum seekers, while the number arriving this year alone is more than 20 times that figure.
Very few applications for asylum are completed as most abscond to continue their journey. Lawmakers in Budapest last week approved measures that could see asylum applicants pushed back to neighbouring countries such as Serbia.
But Amnesty International has warned that illegal migrants deported from Hungary face multiple human rights violations in Balkan countries.
Although the new rules and the planned fence have yet to stem the flow of migrants, observers say the government’s rhetoric has hardened the public’s attitude towards migrants.
A recent poll commissioned by conservative magazine Heti Válasz, showed 63 per cent of respondents believe immigration poses a threat to Hungary’s security.
Opinion polls also indicate another trend: since Mr Orban announced the planned border fence, support levels for his governing Fidesz party have risen at the expense of the radical rightwing Jobbik party, ending an eight-month trend of declining approval ratings.
Hungarian police are erecting a 175-kilometre-long razor wire fence along the border between Hungary and Serbia. This depressing video from Drone Media Studio shows how the beautiful countryside is being destroyed, literally and figuratively, by anti-immigration policies.
In several aerial shots, the videographers show us where Serbia (Szerbia) and Hungary (Magyarország) meet, and these moments highlight how arbitrary this boundary really is.
All we see are swathes of green farmland, which just happen to have been divided up by governments eager to prevent people from moving from one place to another. The fence itself is on what was once a peaceful dirt road between fields. Now it will be a hellish nest of razor wire and police vehicles.
“Hungary has become one of the main crossing points … for refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, who arrive to Europe via Greece and travel through Serbia and Hungary on their way to countries in northern Europe like Germany and Sweden.”
Preventing these refugees from fleeing war and repressive regimes makes this move by the Hungarian government even more disturbing. [via Drone Media Studio]
A crowd throwing stones, shoes and bottles of water forced Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic to flee a memorial ceremony in Bosnia commemorating the 20-year anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre.
Mr Vucic had to be whisked away through a crowd of angry mourners after his glasses were broken when a stone, thrown from the booing crowd, hit him in the face.
People also carried banners reading a wartime quote from the Prime Minster: “For every killed Serb, we will kill 100 Bosniaks.”
The incident reveals the deep-seated anger over Serbia’s denial of the crime as genocide.
A group of women from the capital Belgrade, who are campaigning for Serbia to admit their role in the slaughter, shouted “responsibility” and “genocide” at Mr Vucic.
Tens of thousands of people were at the memorial marking the death of around 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
The United Nations had decalred Srebrenica to be safe for civilians, but on 11 July 1995 Serb troops attacked the Muslim area.
On Wednesday Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution to describe the Srebrenica massacre as “genocide”.
Last month, Milorad Dodik, president of Bosnia’s autonomous Serb Republic, called the massacre “the greatest deception of the 20th century”.
14 people have been convicted at a UN tribunal in The Hague in connection to the Srebrenica killings.
The former Bosnian Serb army chief, Ratko Mladic, and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic are both facing seperate trials at The Hague.
Both are accused of crimes relating to the Srebrenica massacre.
Foreign Minister: Hungary ‘can’t wait any longer’ for solution to the crisis
Number of asylum seekers in Hungary has risen to 54,000 so far this year
Once in Hungary migrants can easily move to Schengen group countries
Preparation work for Hungary’s fence should be completed by next week
Hungary has vowed to erect a 13ft-high fence along its border with Serbia to block immigrants from crossing into the EU.
Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto announced the 100-mile barricade, saying that Hungary ‘could not wait any longer’ for a solution to the migration crisis.
The number of migrants entering the European Union on the overland route through the Balkans, mostly across the southern Hungarian border with Serbia, has risen markedly.
So far this year, the number of asylum seekers in Hungary has surged to 54,000, up from under 43,000 in 2014 and 2,150 in 2012.
Mr Szijjarto said: ‘Immigration is one of the most serious problem facing the European Union today. ‘The EU’s countries seek a solution… but Hungary cannot afford to wait any longer.’
Preparation work for the fence should be completed by next week, he told a press conference.
The land route through the Balkan states is regarded as a well-established, cheaper and much safer way to reach Europe compared to the journey by sea.
In an increasingly well-worn path migrants arrive in Greece or Bulgaria from Turkey, trek through Macedonia and Serbia, which is not an EU member, into Hungary.
Once in Hungary, which is an EU member state, migrants can easily move into other Schengen group countries and onwards into northern Europe.
Hungary received more refugees per capita than any other EU country, apart from Sweden, last year. Some 95 per cent of them arrive from Serbia.
The total number of migrants crossing into Hungary is likely to reach 130,000 this year.
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban warned last week that he was considering ‘all the options’ including the complete closure of his country’s frontier with Serbia.
The government have already attempted to battle the crisis with a negative advertising campaign using slogans such as, ‘If you come to Hungary, you cannot take Hungarians’ jobs.’
A recent report by the EU border chiefs highlighted concerns that militant jihadis could be crossing into Europe overland concealed among migrants.
The border agency Frontex said the number of illegal entries in the Western Balkans region soared by 65 per cent last year to 66,000 from 40,000 with the border with Hungary and Serbia was the main hole in the frontier.
In December 2014, this border section accounted for over half of all illegal border-crossings into the entire EU.
It said: ‘The land route through the Balkan states is regarded as a well-established, cheaper and much safer way to reach Europe compared to the sea travel from Turkey or Greece on board small and usually overcrowded boats.’
It added: ‘Considering the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq, which attracts more and more radicalised foreigners, it is possible that such persons transit the region posing as migrants.
But the erection of such a permanent structure is likely to be seen as controversial. The Pope voiced his opposition to such measures during his general audience this morning saying governments must welcome refugees.
He said: ‘We must all ask for God’s pardon for the people and the authorities that have closed the door to these people who seek a family who seek to be looked after.’
Hungary says that it will build a fence along its border with Serbia to keep out migrants.
Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that officials had been told to prepare a plan for a barrier along the frontier, stretching 175km (109 miles).
He added that Hungary could not afford to wait for the EU to find a solution to immigration.
There has been a sharp rise in the number of migrants and asylum seekers entering Hungary.
The government said about 54,000 migrants entered the country so far this year, compared to 43,000 people in 2014.
Police registered 10,000 people illegally going over the border in January alone.
However, tens of thousands of Hungarians have also been leaving the country.
“Immigration is one of the most serious problems facing the European Union today,” Mr Szijjarto told a press conference on Wednesday.
“We are talking about a stretch of border 175 km long, whose physical closure can happen with a four-metre high fence. The interior minister received an instruction to prepare that.”
Mr Szijjarto said that the fence will not contravene any of Hungary’s international obligations and that the plan will be prepared by next week.
Critics say that that the announcement is the latest anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Hungarian government.
A recent government billboard campaign with messages such as “If you come to Hungary, don’t take the jobs of Hungarians!” has caused controversy – and prompted the UN to prepare its own billboards highlighting refugees who have successfully integrated into Hungarian society.
The poster campaign is part of the government’s efforts to win public support for tough new immigration laws that are expected soon.
Hungarian officials have said that the billboards were part of a voter survey on immigration that was sent to eight million Hungarians.
The immigration questionnaire asked people whether they agreed that immigrants endangered their livelihoods and spread terrorism.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic says he is “surprised and shocked” by the Hungarian government’s plan to close the border with Serbia and erect a fence along the shared border to keep out illegal migrants.
“I am surprised and shocked. We will discuss this decision with our Hungarian colleagues,” Vucic told Serbian state TV during a visit to Oslo.
Earlier on June 17, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the government instructed the Interior Ministry to “begin preparation work for a 4-meter-high fence along the length” of the 175-kilometer border.
“Immigration is one of the most serious problem facing the European Union today,” Szijjarto told journalists. “The EU’s countries seek a solution, but Hungary cannot afford to wait any longer.”
The number of migrants and asylum seekers entering Hungary, mostly across the southern border with Serbia, has sky-rocketed since the second half of 2014.
Officials said that so far this year, some 54,000 migrants had entered Hungary, up from 43,000 in 2014 and 2,150 in 2012.