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Hungary erects border fence to plug migrant flow

Hungarian Defence Force prepared to begin border fence construction Photo: Gergely BOTÁR/Prime Minister’s Office

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.

Hungary border fence map Migration
Local police say many of the migrants they round up are reported by local residents and farmers.

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.

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Drone Footage Shows Massive New Border Fence Between Hungary and Serbia

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.

Why are they doing this? As the Globe and Mail points out, it’s not actually aimed at Serbian immigrants.

“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]

Srebrenica memorial: Serbian PM chased away by angry crowd throwing stones

aleksandar vucic

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.

Hungary building 13ft-high, 110-mile fence along its border with Serbia to stop the flow of illegal migrants

Budapest: Once in Hungary, which is an EU member state, migrants can easily move into other Schengen group countries and onwards into northern Europe
Budapest: Once in Hungary, which is an EU member state, migrants can easily move into other Schengen group countries and onwards into northern Europe
  • 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.

Fence: Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto (left) announced the 100-mile barricade, saying that Hungary ‘could not wait any longer’ for a solution to the migration crisis
Fence: Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto (left) 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.

Border: 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
Border: 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

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.

Anti-migrant billboards in 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.

Thinking: Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban (pictured) warned last week that he was considering 'all the options' including the complete closure of his country’s frontier with Serbia
Thinking: Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban (pictured) warned last week that he was considering ‘all the options’ including the complete closure of his country’s frontier with Serbia

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.

Migrants crossing on foot

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.

Turkish-Bulgarian border

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.

Migrants making the journey on foot through to Hungary

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.

Migrants trying to enter Hungary

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 to build barrier to keep out migrants– Serbia ‘Shocked’

Migrants are detained by Hungarian police officers near Roszke, south of Szeged in Hungary, 21 May 2015.

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.

‘Physical closure’

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.

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Mr Szijjarto (left) said that the fence will be four metres high and will stretch across the border with Serbia

“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.

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Many of the anti-immigration posters have been defaced

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.

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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.

Hungary’s poster war on immigration

State-funded billboard in Budapest reads: "If you come to Hungary, do not take Hungarians'" jobs

“If you come to Hungary,” reads a giant roadside billboard, “don’t take the jobs of Hungarians!”

The billboards have been ordered by the government, at taxpayers’ expense, and are going up all over the country.

Liberal and left-wing opposition parties are so incensed by a message they believe whips up xenophobia, that activists have started defacing every poster they find.

Anti-immigration poster defaced with smiley in Budapest

The original text of this poster, next to the Obuda cemetery in Budapest, reads: “If you come to Hungary, you have to keep our laws.”

“Our laws” has been painted over, and the words “National Consultation on Migration and Terrorism” have been altered to read: “National Insult on Migration and Terrorism”.

Anti-immigration poster defaced with the slogan: "See it not only look at it"

Another billboard has been defaced even more drastically, with the slogan: “See (what’s going on), don’t just stare!”.

The billboard campaign is part of a government effort to win public support for tough new laws, expected after the summer break, aimed at limiting migration to Hungary.

These changes may include the erection of a border fence along Hungary’s southern border, and returning asylum seekers to Serbia.

Now critics of the government’s moves have found an ally, in the form of the regional office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

UNHCR pic

To mark World Refugee Day on 20 June, the UNHCR has prepared its own set of giant billboards, highlighting refugees who have successfully integrated into Hungarian society.

This poster features Zeeshan, a Pakistani man who plays in the enthusiastic, but little known, national cricket team.

“I want to play well for this country,” his message reads.

UNHCR poster

Another UN poster features Sophie, originally from Togo, and now a nanny in a Hungarian kindergarten.

“The children are full of trust. They have no prejudices,” her caption reads.

UNHCR poster

“We want to live here, and that’s why we opened our restaurant,” announces Begum Ali, who runs a small Bangladeshi family restaurant near Budapest’s East Station.

The UN describes its posters as an “interesting dialogue with the Hungarian government’s anti-immigrant billboard campaign”.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government points out that its billboards were part of a voter survey on immigration sent to eight million Hungarians.

While there has been a marked increase in the number of migrants arriving in Hungary, tens of thousands of Hungarians have been leaving the country, too.

Ukraine Conflict Forces Eastern States to Stockpile Gas

Eastern European nations from Poland to Serbia are boosting stockpiles of natural gas after Russia reduced deliveries during the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and concerns rose about a winter shutoff.

Underground storage in the Czech Republic and Poland is at full capacity, while Slovakia expects to top up its storage facilities in the next several days, the countries’ gas companies said. Serbia, whose sole depot has a capacity of 450 million cubic meters, may ask neighboring Hungary to store as much as 200 million cubic meters of gas in its reservoirs, according to Energy Minister Aleksandar Antic.

While the level of eastern European countries’ dependence on Russian gas through Ukraine varies, the region as a whole relies more on deliveries from OAO Gazprom (OGZD) than western Europeand is therefore stocking up in case flow from Russia via Ukraine stops entirely.

During the past few days, Russia began slightly reducing supplies to countries like Slovakia and Poland, which provide reverse gas flows to Ukraine.

“Only Latvia has enough storage capacity to survive through the winter without Russian gas,” Mikhail Korchemkin from East European Gas Analysis said by e-mail. “Other countries of central and eastern Europe don’t have enough storage capacity.”

Southeastern European nations such as Bulgaria and Serbia are particularly exposed to interruptions since they are almost 100 percent dependent on Russian gas coming through Ukraine. The current crisis has rekindled memories of 2006 and 2009, when Gazprom disputes with Ukraine left the Balkan nations without fuel for weeks.

South Stream

As a result, southeastern Europe’s governments were long reluctant to halt preparatory work on Gazprom’s South Stream project, designed to run under the Black Sea from Russia and enter the EU in Bulgaria, bypassing Ukraine.

Authorities were betting on the 2,446-kilometer (1,520-mile) pipeline to boost the security of supplies and halted the construction under lobbying from Brussels and the U.S. earlier this year.

The U.S. expanded sanctions against Russia today to include the country’s largest bank, OAO Sberbank, as well as energy, defense and technology companies owned by the state. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew warned of Russia’s growing “economic and diplomatic isolation.”

In Serbia, where hundreds of thousands of households rely partly or completely on electricity for heating due to capped electricity prices, a gas shortage could cause a spike in power consumption that would destabilize the national grid, former Energy Minister Petar Skundric said. In case of a cutoff, Serb storage may cover as much as 45 days of consumption in wintertime.

Full Capacity

The Czech Republic’s gas storage is full, one month before schedule, according RWE AG (RWE), which operates 92 percent of the country’s underground storage with a capacity of 2.7 billion cubic meters. Polish utility Polskie Gornictwo Naftowe i Gazownictwo SA also filled its 2.6 billion cubic meters of to the limit.

Still, gas companies across eastern Europe are reporting reduction in gas supplies from Russia. PGNiG said it received as much as 24 percent less gas from Gazprom than it ordered on Sept. 8 and 9.

Slovakia, which started the reverse flow to Ukraine at the beginning of September, saw a 10 percent decrease in the amount of gas ordered from Russia every day since Sept. 10, operator Slovensky Plynarensky Priemysel AS said. Gas flow to Romania was cut by 5 percent.

Emerging Europe

“We are seeing a similar story across emerging Europe – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, as Russia tries to limit any surplus gas available in the region for reverse flow back to Ukraine,” said Timothy Ash, the chief economist for emerging markets at Standard Bank Group Ltd. in London.

Slovakia’s SPP said so far the supplies are sufficient to cover all of the country’s demand and the storage is almost full.

Gas supplies to Austria were also 15 percent lower than agreed yesterday and will remain at the same level today, OMV AG spokesman Robert Lechner said in a phone interview today. The Austrian oil company is getting more gas than what’s needed and its own gas storages are 98 percent full, Lechner said.

The Czechs are less dependent on the supply of gas via the pipeline than surrounding countries because of its interconnection with Germany, which can cover their entire consumption.

The country is also able to supply neighboring Slovakia, a former federal partner, in case it’s needed, Czech Industry and Trade Minister Jan Mladek said.

Baltic Supplies

Lithuania has enough gas reserves to last until its new LNG terminal in Klaipeda opens in December, Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius said on Sept. 11.

Latvia’s Incukalns storage facility is 70 percent full, with enough gas to last the country for more than a year, Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma said on Sept. 9.

Estonia, the smallest of the three Baltic republics, has gas stocks for only five days. While gas represents only 9 percent in the nation’s energy mix, it is used to heat 58 percent of the capital Tallinn.

Romania has a sizable domestic production and its storage with a capacity of 2.8 billion cubic meters is currently half full. The country can last about six months without any gas imports from Russia, Energy Minister Razvan Nicolescu said in June.

“Without Ukrainian transit, Bulgaria would suffer the most,” Korchemkin said. As for LNG potentially imported by Lithuania andPoland, it “would replace just about 25-30 percent of the daily volumes of Russian gas delivered via Ukraine.”

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